By Xavier Martini
Planting wildflowers in and around fields is known to provide food resources and habitats for beneficial arthropods like pollinators and predators of pests. In two locations (Lake Alfred and Monticello), University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researchers tested whether planting native Florida wildflowers next to citrus grove windbreaks could improve natural pest control and pollination by increasing the diversity and number of pollinators and arthropod predators in groves.
In late 2020, different combinations of native buttonbush, coral honeysuckle and blanket flower were planted along the grove windbreaks. Since April 2021, arthropods have been sampled monthly in both these treatment groves as well as control groves containing a windbreak but no flowers. In both fields, more predators were found in the groves with wildflowers, but no evidence of increased predation. This may be due to higher pest pressure from an unrelated higher flush density in these treatment groves.
Overall, groves with wildflowers also have more diverse and abundant pollinators near the flower plantings as well as within the groves themselves. This was particularly true for plots containing blanket flowers as compared to plots with vines or bush only. The analyses also considered the effects of existing flowering species in each grove.
While commercial honeybees were most often found on Spanish needle, a flowering weed common to groves, native bees were highly attracted to the blanket flowers.
This study is ongoing but currently suggests that flowering treatments are associated with increases in the diversity and abundance of beneficial arthropods. Researchers are investigating whether these effects increase over time as the perennial flowers have more time to establish and flower in higher densities.
Xavier Martini is an assistant professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy.
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