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Diversity of wild bees supports pollination services in an urbanized landscape


Plantings in residential neighborhoods can support wild pollinators. However, it is unknown how effectively wild pollinators maintain pollination services in small, urban gardens with diverse floral resources. We used a ‘mobile garden’ experimental design, whereby potted plants of cucumber, eggplant, and purple coneflower were brought to 30 residential yards in Chicago, IL, USA, to enable direct assessment of pollination services provided by wild pollinator communities. We measured fruit and seed set and investigated the effect of within-yard characteristics and adjacent floral resources on plant pollination. Increased pollinator visitation and taxonomic richness generally led to increases in fruit and seed set for all focal plants. Furthermore, fruit and seed set were correlated across the three species, suggesting that pollination services vary across the landscape in ways that are consistent among different plant species. Plant species varied in terms of which pollinator groups provided the most visits and benefit for pollination. Cucumber pollination was linked to visitation by small sweat bees (Lasioglossum spp.), whereas eggplant pollination was linked to visits by bumble bees. Purple coneflower was visited by the most diverse group of pollinators and, perhaps due to this phenomenon, was more effectively pollinated in florally-rich gardens. Our results demonstrate how a diversity of wild bees supports pollination of multiple plant species, highlighting the importance of pollinator conservation within cities. Non-crop resources should continue to be planted in urban gardens, as these resources have a neutral and potentially positive effect on crop pollination.

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The authors thank our crew of dedicated field assistants, Dragan Dragas, Sophie Huang, Tabitha Paroongsup, and Kay Lowenstein. The authors also thank the staff at the UIC Greenhouse and Lucas von Der Linden for their efforts at keeping plants healthy and preparing plants for field research. Finally, the authors thank the 30 participating homeowners in Chicago, IL, USA, for offering access to private spaces and caring for the mobile garden while in their yards. This work was funded by NSF Proposal Number: DEB-1120376.

Author contribution statement

DML collected the data and performed most analyses. DML, KCM, and ESM conceived and designed the experiments. DML, KCM, and ESM wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Emily S. Minor.

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All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Communicated by Richard Karban.

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Lowenstein, D.M., Matteson, K.C. & Minor, E.S. Diversity of wild bees supports pollination services in an urbanized landscape. Oecologia 179, 811–821 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3389-0

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  • Urban agriculture
  • Floral resources
  • Pollinators
  • Residential garden
  • Ecosystem service