Effects of Landscape Context on Pollination in Dwarf Sunflowers, Helianthus Annuus
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Pollination services play an essential role in sustaining agricultural production levels that will meet human needs and have an estimated annual economic value of US$ 1.25 billion. In addition to traditional agricultural demands, increasing pressure for alternative fuel sources has pushed production of cellulosic biofuel. Concern regarding the conservation of pollination services continues to increase as agricultural pressures drive farmers toward more intensive land management. These farming practices involve habitat destruction and toxic chemical usage that jeopardize ecosystem services upon which they depend. A sustainable scheme for cellulosic biofuel production must account for preserving the beneficial insects that provide necessary pollination services. Previous studies have shown that landscape context is an important predictor of arthropod pollinator abundance and diversity. In exploring agri-environmental schemes for biofuel crops, I conducted a field experiment testing the hypothesis that pollination services will be greatest in diverse mixed prairies and least in corn monocultures. I also hypothesized that greater proportions of perennial habitat within a 1500m radius around each site would support better pollination. We used potted dwarf sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) as a phytometer to measure this effect in twelve fields in the state of Michigan. Sites were selected based on crop type and proportion of natural or semi-natural perennial landscape within a 1500m radius. Seed production, quantified by the number of seeds per sunflower head and weight per seed, revealed no statistically significant differences between prairie and corn fields.