Insect pollination improves yield of Shea (Vitellaria paradoxa subsp. paradoxa) in the agroforestry parklands of West Africa
Pollinator decline, driven primarily by habitat degradation, has the potential to reduce the quantity and quality of pollinator-dependent crops produced across the world. Vitellaria paradoxa, a socio-economically important tree which grows across the sub-Saharan drylands of Africa, produces seeds from which shea butter is extracted. However, the habitats in which this tree grows are threatened with degradation, potentially impacting its ability to attract sufficient pollinators and to produce seeds. The flowers of V. paradoxa are insect-pollinated, and we investigated flower visitors in six sites in southern Burkina Faso and northern Ghana and tested whether plants were capable of fruit set in the absence of pollinators. We found that the majority of flower visitors (88%) were bees, most frequently small social stingless bees (Hypotrigona gribodoi), but native honey bees (Apis mellifera adansonii) were also common visitors to flowers early in the morning. The number of fruit produced per inflorescence was significantly lower when insects were excluded during flowering by bagging, but any fruits and seeds that were produced in bagged treatments were of similar weight to un-bagged ones. We conclude that conservation of habitat to protect social bees is important to maintain pollination services to V. paradoxa and other fruit-bearing trees and cultivated crops on which local livelihoods depend.
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