Abundant bugs bring better apples

Jan 15, 2014 by Alex Peel
Abundant bugs bring better apples
Orchard apples.

Apples from trees pollinated by insects are bigger, rounder, and more desirable, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, values the annual contribution of insects to two of Britain's most popular varieties, Cox and Gala, at just under £37 million.

It also says that a lack of pollinating insects, such as bees and hoverflies, could be costing the Gala industry millions of pounds a year.

Dr Mike Garratt, from the University of Reading, led the study.

'Insects are vitally important for producing a marketable number of Gala and Cox apples,' he says. 'To maximise the quantity and quality of apples, we'd need to increase both the abundance and diversity of pollinating insects.'

'That way, when you get a particularly bad season for one pollinator species, there would be a healthy stock of other insects to come in and do the work.'

The research was carried out on six Cox and Gala orchards in the apple-growing region of Kent. At each site, some of the branches were covered with a fine PVC mesh, allowing wind and rain to get through but keeping insects out.

Trees that were left open to bugs yielded both more fruit, and a larger proportion of higher-value class-one apples.

Alongside those experiments, some trees were pollinated by hand. This allowed the scientists to see what would happen if there were enough insects to pollinate the trees to their full potential.

They found that the extra quantity and quality of Gala apples would be worth almost £6 million a year.

Populations of wild pollinators are not currently monitored in the UK. But in the past 30 years, the number of managed honeybee colonies has fallen by more than half. As well as a decline in the number of bee-keepers, both disease and pesticides have been implicated.

A recent study in the journal PLOS ONE said that more than half of European countries, including the UK, no longer have enough honeybees to pollinate their crops, with wild pollinators increasingly taking up the slack.

For orchard managers looking to maximise their yields, Dr Garratt has a number of suggestions.

'Within the orchard, you can help pollinators by planting wildflower strips, maintaining hedgerows, and keeping a proper understory layer to the trees,' he says.

'At the landscape level, what the really need are more native grass-lands and woodlands.'

The team are currently carrying out a similar analysis on two other popular British varieties – Bramley and Braeburn.

Explore further: Agricultural policy change drives increased pollination demand

More information: Garratt MPD, Breeze TD, Jenner N, Polce C, Biesmeijer JC, Potts SG, 'Avoiding a bad apple: Insect pollination enhances fruit quality and economic value,' 2014, Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment.

Journal reference: PLoS ONE search and more info website

Provided by PlanetEarth Online search and more info website

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Loss of wild insects hurts crops around the world

Feb 28, 2013

Researchers studying data from 600 fields in 20 countries have found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees, suggesting the continuing loss ...

Lonely bees make better guests

Jun 18, 2013

Solitary bees are twice as likely to pollinate the flowers they visit as their more sociable counterparts, according to a new study.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

8 hours ago

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

18 hours ago

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...