Research on threats to pollination service in agro-ecosystems has focused primarily on the negative impacts of land use change and agricultural practices such as insecticide use on pollinator populations. Insecticide use could also affect the pollination process, through nonlethal impacts on pollinator attraction and postpollination processes such as pollen viability or pollen tube growth. Hybrid onion seed (Allium cepa L., Alliaceae) is an important pollinator-dependent crop that has suffered yield declines in California, concurrent with increased insecticide use. Field studies suggest that insecticide use reduces pollination service in this system. We conducted a field experiment manipulating insecticide use to examine the impacts of insecticides on 1) pollinator attraction, 2) pollen/stigma interactions, and 3) seed set and seed quality. Select insecticides had negative impacts on pollinator attraction and pollen/stigma interactions, with certain products dramatically reducing pollen germination and pollen tube growth. Decreased pollen germination was not associated with reduced seed set; however, reduced pollinator attraction was associated with lower seed set and seed quality, for one of the two female lines examined. Our results highlight the importance of pesticide effects on the pollination process. Overuse may lead to yield reductions through impacts on pollinator behavior and postpollination processes. Overall, in hybrid onion seed production, moderation in insecticide use is advised when controlling onion thrips, Thrips tabaci, on commercial fields.
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