Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Fargo, North Dakota » Edward T. Schafer Agricultural Research Center » Sunflower and Plant Biology Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #350981

Title: Using nectar-related traits to enhance crop-pollinator interactions

item Prasifka, Jarrad
item MALLINGER, RACHEL - Former ARS Employee
item Portlas, Zoe
item Hulke, Brent
item Fugate, Karen
item PARADIS, TRAVIS - University Of Minnesota
item HAMPTON, MARSHALL - University Of Minnesota
item CARTER, CLAY - University Of Minnesota

Submitted to: Frontiers in Plant Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/25/2018
Publication Date: 6/18/2018
Citation: Prasifka, J.R., Mallinger, R.E., Portlas, Z.M., Hulke, B.S., Fugate, K.K., Paradis, T., Hampton, M.E., Carter, C.J. 2018. Using nectar-related traits to enhance crop-pollinator interactions. Frontiers in Plant Science.

Interpretive Summary: Nectar and pollen are rewards pollinators receive in exchange for moving pollen between flowering plants, which is required for many crops to produce fruit or seeds. Over the last 20-30 years, there have been fewer bee species and lower numbers of bees (for species that are found) in many parts of the world. At the same time, we are also relying on bees and other pollinators more by growing more of the crops that are pollinator-dependent. Breeding or choosing crop varieties that have traits pollinators prefer is one attractive strategy that should benefit crops and bees. Breeding crops for pollinators would use information we already have on plant traits important to bees and other pollinators, should be compatible with other strategies used to promote pollinators, and would not require changes or restrict options for growers. We use recent work in sunflowers to show (1) how certain plant traits have been shown to promote bee visits, (2) how important bees are to consistent, high yields, and (3) how modern genetics tools can make breeding crops with traits that benefit pollinators more efficient and effective. This and other ongoing research will allow sunflower to become a model crop for this method of enhancing interactions between bees and crops.

Technical Abstract: Floral nectar and other rewards facilitate crop pollination, and in so doing, increase the amount and breadth of food available for humans. Though pollinator abundance and diversity (particularly bees) have declined over the past several decades, a concomitant increase in reliance on pollinators presents a challenge to food production. Development of crop varieties with specific nectar or nectar-related traits to attract and retain pollinating insects is an appealing strategy to help address needs of agriculture and pollinators for several reasons. First, many crops have specific traits which have been identified to enhance crop-pollinator interactions. Also, an improved understanding of mechanisms that govern nectar-related traits suggest simplified phenotyping and breeding are possible. Finally, the use of nectar-related traits to enhance crop pollination should be complementary to other measures promoting pollinators, does not limit options for crop production, and does not require any changes by growers other than planting varieties and hybrids that are more attractive or rewarding to pollinators. In this article, we review the rationale for improving crop-pollinator interactions, the effects of specific plant traits on pollinator species, and use cultivated sunflowers as a case study. Recent research in sunflower has (i) associated variation in bee visitation with specific floral traits, (ii) quantified benefits of pollinators to hybrid yields, and (iii) used genetic resources in sunflower and other plants to find markers associated with key floral traits. Forthcoming work to increase pollinator rewards should enable sunflower to act as a model for using nectar-related traits to enhance crop-pollinator interactions.