Weeds Attract Pollinators to Increase Harvests
A recent study published in Insects compared mango trees at a local farm in Homestead, Florida, where one plot of trees had weeds growing around them and another plot was maintained to be weed-free. It turns out that the presence of weeds benefits trees and pollinators. “Weeds actually do a lot of good. It might be helpful to think of them of wildflowers,” says Blaire Kleiman, the Florida International University Institute of Environment graduate teaching assistant and alumna who, under the guidance of professors Suzanne Koptur and Krishnaswamy Jayachandran, undertook this research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants program.
Fruit trees can’t live without pollinators. Bees and other insects have been shown to increase the size and quality of yields from 70 percent of the leading, economically important crops in the world, but it’s getting harder to bring bees to the trees. Over the last 30 years, pollinator numbers have declined significantly. Farmers already rely on insectary plants to attract pollinators, and Kleiman notes that her findings apply to 80 percent of all flowering plants of Earth, including vegetables like tomatoes, beans, eggplants and squash. She wants her study to help farmers also reduce the use of chemical pesticides that harm pollinators.