Pollination contribution to crop yield is often context-dependent: A review of experimental evidence

Tamburini, Giovanni; Bommarco, Riccardo; Kleijn, David; Putten, Wim H. van der; Marini, Lorenzo


Insect pollination is a well-studied ecosystem service that supports production in 75% of globally important crops. Although yield is known to be sustained and regulated by a bundle of ecosystem services and management factors, the contribution of pollination to yield has been mostly studied in isolation. Here, we compiled and reviewed research on the contribution of pollination to crop yield under different environmental conditions, where the potential interaction between pollination and other factors contributing to yield, such as nutrient availability and control of pests, was tested. Specifically, we explored whether pollination displayed synergistic, compensatory or additive effects with concomitant factors. The literature search resulted in 24 peer-reviewed studies for a total of 39 individual tests of interactions. Studies examined responses in 13 crops testing interactions both at the local and the landscape scale. Interactions between pollination and other factors influencing yield were observed for several crops and mostly displayed positive-synergistic relationships. Crop life-history traits such as pollination dependency were found to affect the plant response to variations in resource and pollen availability. Soil properties and crop pests might affect contribution of pollination to yield by altering the amount of resources a plant can allocate to reproduction, independently of the amount of pollen provided. Current management strategies to enhance pollinators might fail to increase pollination benefits in landscapes characterized by poor soil resources or ineffective pest control. We propose that our understanding of the effects of crop-pollinator interactions will benefit by focusing on plant traits and physiological responses. Combining knowledge from plant physiology and ecology with technological advances in agriculture is needed to design novel management strategies to maximize pollination benefits and support yields and reduce environmental impacts of food production.