Blueberry species (Vaccinium section Cyanococcus) benefit from cross-pollination. Outcrossing increases fruit set, berry size, and ripening rate. Although knowledge of pollen dispersal is essential for maximizing cross-pollination and achieving optimal planting designs, this process has not been quantified previously in blueberry plantings. A novel method was developed to estimate the proportion of self- and cross-pollen transported by blueberry pollinators. The proposed technique requires a consistent difference in pollen size between two cultivars to predict the composition of a pollen mixture based on frequency distributions of pollen diameter. Vaccinium ashei Reade `Brightwell' and `Climax' were chosen for this study because they produce pollen tetrads of different size. Tetrad diameter and number were analyzed with a particle counter. The technique was validated by predicting the proportion of `Brightwell' in pollen mixtures where the cultivar composition was known, and predicted and actual values were linearly correlated (r = 0.995, P < 0.0001). The technique was then applied to pollen samples extracted from the bodies of pollinators that were collected in a mixed `Brightwell' and `Climax' blueberry plot. Numbers of blueberry tetrads extracted per bumblebee (Bombus spp.) averaged 4595 and 797 in 2003 and 2004, respectively, which was considered adequate to make accurate predictions based on frequency distributions of tetrad diameter. The proportion of `Brightwell' pollen carried by bumblebees changed with the phenology of the crop following an expected pattern, indicating that the method performed well under field conditions. This technique could potentially be used to quantify the likelihood for outcrossing and establish the effect of cultivar arrangements on pollen dispersion, as well as to examine pollen collection and manipulation, and cultivar preference by bees.
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