Cucurbits as a model system for crop pollination management
Cucurbit crops have steadily increased in production over the last 50 years, particularly in Asia where pioneering technological advancements and genetic improvements have created new hybrid varieties. Generally, cucurbits are dependent on insect-pollination for fruit set and are popular species for pollination studies. This review systematically summarises pollination research conducted in the major food genera of cucurbits: Cucurbita, Cucumis, and Citrullus, to ask: 1) what are cucurbits’ requirement for pollination and their most effective pollinators? And 2) Does pollinator management increase pollinator visitation to, and yield of, cucurbit crops? These accounts of cucurbit pollination demonstrate that wild bee species such as Bombus terrestris, B. impatiens and Eucera spp. were frequently able to fulfil the pollination requirements of multiple cucurbit species. However, pollinator behaviour, pollen deposition on stigmas, and pollinators’ contribution to yield vary between cucurbit species and study site. Nonetheless, the provision of additional floral resources at both field and farm scales may help to encourage pollination of cucurbit species whilst supporting pollinators’ nutritional requirements beyond those already provided by the cucurbit crop. Synthesising studies on cucurbits’ requirement for pollination and how pollinators vary spatially and temporally in the landscape can extend beyond cucurbit systems to inform growers and pollination ecologists of other pollinator-dependent crop species wishing to maximise pollination services, species conservation; or both.
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