Research questions

Honey bee on Cosmos Honey bee on Cosmos
Sampling in Reading farmland Sampling in Reading farmland
Sampling in Dundee nature reserve Sampling in Dundee nature reserve

1. How does the pollinator biodiversity in urban areas compare to that of nature reserves and farmland?

While there is a growing appreciation of the value of urban habitats to pollinators, little is known regarding their worth in comparison to other habitats.

The first stage of the project will investigate how insect pollinator communities in urban areas compare to those found in farmland and nature reserves. We predict that pollinator species richness will be greatest in nature reserves (which theoretically contain the greatest amount of ‘natural’ habitat) and lowest in urban habitats (the most altered from their historical ‘natural’ state).

In 2011 we sampled replicate urban habitats, agro-ecosystems and nature reserves in and around 12 towns and cities across the UK. We collected data on pollinators, flowering plants and the interactions between them (i.e. which pollinator species were feeding on which flowering plant species).

Our four regional field teams collected data at 36 sites between May and September 2011. Urban areas were sampled in 12 towns and cities: Bristol, Cardiff, Swindon, Reading, London, Southampton, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee. A farmland site and a nature reserve site were sampled within 10km of the urban boundary of each town or city.

We will use the data to compare the plant and pollinator communities between urban habitats, agroecosystems and nature reserves. By counting the visits between the pollinators and flowers at each site we can construct plant-pollinator food webs showing the links between plant and pollinator species. The architecture of these webs can tell us a lot about how resilient these communities are likely to be to environmental change.

An example of a plant-pollinator food web for an urban habitat in Bristol (reproduced from Lopezaraiza-Mikel et al. 2007)

We are very grateful to all landowners, reserve managers and garden owners who granted access to sample on their land in 2011. All insects sampled during this phase of the project have now been identified by taxonomists at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. The next step in this stage of the project will be to analyse the data and publish our findings.