Effect of corolla slitting and nectar robbery by the Eastern Carpenter Bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) on fruit quality of vaccinium corymbosum L. (Ericales: Ericaceae)

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Eastern carpenter bees, Xylocopa virginica (L.) (Hymenoptera: Apidae), are among the most abundant native bee visitors to highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum L., flowers in the northeastern United States, and they sometimes display corolla-slitting behavior to rob nectar. We studied foraging behavior of X. virginica on 14 blueberry cultivars in an experimental planting in Rhode Island, and assessed factors related to slitting frequency, and the effects of slitting on fruit set and blueberry quality. Among 14 cultivars in bloom, an average of 35% (range 16-67%) of flowers were slit in 2017, and 39% (range 20-62%) in 2018. Factors that affected the proportion of corollas slit included cultivar, anther length, flower volume, and number of days in bloom at or above 15°C. Corolla slitting did not affect fruit set. Average weight and percent soluble solids of fruit resulting from slit and non-slit corollas did not differ significantly in two early-('Bluehaven', 'Earliblue'), two mid-('Collins', 'Bluecrop'), and two late-season ('Herbert', 'Lateblue') ripening cultivars in 2017. In 2018, average fruit weight and percent soluble solids resulting from slit and non-slit flowers did not differ significantly in most cultivars, but slit corollas resulted in berries with greater mass in two cultivars, 'Bluehaven' and 'Collins'. 'Collins' fruit from non-slit corollas had a significantly higher percentage of soluble solids at maturity than fruit from slit corollas in 2018. Corolla slitting and nectar robbery by X. virginica did not have a significant negative effect on fruit quality under the described growing conditions and pollinator community.

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Environmental Entomology