We need to look for alternatives such as mixed crops for an agriculture that can feed the 8 billion people across the planet. Growing food can have terrible costs for the environment, including the continued loss of biodiversity if alternatives to the current production model are not sought. Insects have been especially affected by the pesticides and insecticides used in conventional agriculture.
Even worse, the scarcity of flowering plants in agricultural landscapes is causing a decline in insect pollinators. However, by growing a combination of plants like broad beans and wheat, rather than just one or the other, we can help maintain the forager bee population.
Researchers at the University of Göttingen in Germany realized this after counting the number of honeybees and wild bees present in landscapes that grow mixtures of wheat and fava beans, as well as in pure crops containing only fava beans.
“We expected that mixed crops with fewer flowers would be less visited by bees to forage than monocultures.says Felix Kirsch, a doctoral student in the university’s Functional Agrobiodiversity research group. “To our surprise, this was not the case.”.
The reasons for mixed cultures
“Our mixed crops were less dense than the monocultures, possibly increasing flower visibility. This could have attracted equally large numbers of bees to the mixed crops.”, says Annika Haß, a postdoctoral researcher in the research group that published its findings in a to study .
“Furthermore, the lower competition between broad bean plants in mixed cultivation may mean that they can invest more resources in nectar and pollen production to increase their attractiveness to bees.adds Prof. Wolfgang Link, head of the breeding research group.
previous investigations similarly found that having a diversity of flowers in agricultural landscapes benefits bumblebees and bumblebees, as well as potentially other pollinators.
In addition to sustaining populations of pollinators such as bees, the mixed cultivation of wheat and broad beans brings other advantages for production, such as yields per bean plant that were higher in mixed cultivations than in monocultures, point out the German scientists.
“Cereal crops can be improved ecologically by adding legumes such as beans or lentils. This can be a valuable contribution to increasing the abundance of flowers on farmland and thereby combating pollinator decline.”, suggests Hass.