Pollination biology of fruit-bearing hedgerow plants and the role of flower-visiting insects in fruit-set
Jacobs, Jennifer H.
Clark, Suzanne J.
Osborne, Juliet L.
In the UK, the flowers of fruit-bearing hedgerow plants provide a succession of pollen and nectar for flower-visiting insects for much of the year. The fruits of hedgerow plants are a source of winter food for frugivorous birds on farmland. It is unclear whether recent declines in pollinator populations are likely to threaten fruit-set and hence food supply for birds. The present study investigates the pollination biology of five common hedgerow plants: blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), dog rose (Rosa canina), bramble (Rubus fruticosus) and ivy (Hedera helix). The requirement for insect pollination was investigated initially by excluding insects from flowers by using mesh bags and comparing immature and mature fruit-set with those of open-pollinated flowers. Those plants that showed a requirement for insect pollination were then tested to compare fruit-set under two additional pollination service scenarios: (1) reduced pollination, with insects excluded from flowers bagged for part of the flowering period, and (2) supplemental pollination, with flowers hand cross-pollinated to test for pollen limitation. The proportions of flowers setting fruit in blackthorn, hawthorn and ivy were significantly reduced when insects were excluded from flowers by using mesh bags, whereas fruit-set in bramble and dog rose were unaffected. Restricting the exposure of flowers to pollinators had no significant effect on fruit-set. However, blackthorn and hawthorn were found to be pollen-limited, suggesting that the pollination service was inadequate in the study area. Ensuring strong populations of insect pollinators may be essential to guarantee a winter fruit supply for birds in UK hedgerows.