Seed Production in Watermelon: A Comparison between Two Commercially Available Pollinators

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  • 1 Department of Entomology, Box 7626, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7626
  • | 2 Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7626
  • | 3 Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7609

The number of honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) continues to decline due to parasitic mite pests and other factors. Honey bees and bumble bees (Bombus impatiens Cresson) were therefore compared for their effects on the seed set of watermelon [Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai] in a 2-year field experiment. The experiment was a 2 x 4 + 2 factorial, comparing bee type (honey bee or bumble bee) at four visitation levels (1, 6, 12, and 18 bee visits) to pistillate flowers, with two controls: a no-visit treatment and an open-pollinated treatment. Bee visitation level had a strong positive influence on seed set (P ≤ 0.0001). All flowers bagged to prevent insect visitation aborted, demonstrating the need for active pollen transfer between staminate and pistillate watermelon flowers. Flowers visited by B. impatiens consistently contained more seed than those visited by A. mellifera, when compared at equal bee visitation levels (P ≤ 0.0001). We conclude that bumble bees have great potential to serve as a supplemental pollinator for watermelon when honey bees available for rental are in limited supply.

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