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Cities could play a key role in pollinator conservation – University of Reading

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Cities could play a key role in pollinator conservation

Release Date 16 January 2019

Weeds in our gardens are an important food source for bees

Cities could provide an unexpected lifeline for pollinators, as they face increasing pressures on agricultural land, according to new research.

A study involving scientists at the University of Reading has revealed gardens and allotments are conservation havens for bees and other pollinating insects. It also showed that some of the weeds in gardens and allotments provide them with crucial food sources.

While there have been a few small-scale studies on pollinators in some urban land uses, this is the first-time scientists have considered cities in their entirety. The scientists recommend that public greenspaces are managed to improve existing spaces and add others, such as roadside verges, to help pollinators thrive.

Professor Simon Potts, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and Director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research at the University of Reading, said: “By assessing all major urban land uses for the first time, we found that we are not only undervaluing the importance of gardens and allotments, but also completely missing the opportunity to use less obvious greenspaces that are abundant in cities. Making simple changes to the way these spaces are managed could unlock the potential of cities to be important places for pollinator conservation.”

Watch a video on the findings >>>

The study, published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, found that residential gardens and allotments are particularly good for pollinators, with dandelions, thistles, brambles, lavender, borage and buttercups important plant species for pollinators in urban areas.

The team also designed a new measure of management success, based on community robustness, that considers the stability of whole communities of pollinators, and not just individual species. Robustness is a measure of how a community responds to species loss; robust communities can survive the disappearance of some species but species loss in fragile communities leads to a domino effect of other extinctions.

The main recommendations from the study are:

  • Public greenspaces should be managed so they benefit pollinators. Parks, road verges and other public greenspaces make up around a third of cities but have fewer pollinator visits and resources for pollinators than other land uses. The research shows that increasing the numbers of flowers, for example by mowing less often, can help urban pollinators.
  • Gardens make up a quarter to a third of the area of UK cities and better garden management in new developments and existing gardens is likely to benefit pollinator conservation.
  • City planners and local councils should increase the number of allotments (community gardens) in towns and cities. Allotments (community gardens) are good for pollinators as well as people and increasing their area even by a small amount could have a large positive effect on pollinators.

Dr Katherine Baldock, NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow and lead researcher from the School of Biological Sciences and the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol, said: “By understanding the impact of each urban land use on pollinators, whether it’s gardens, allotments, road verges or parks, we can make cities better places for pollinators.”

The Reading Bee Team, within the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, carries out cutting-edge research and engages with the United Nations, industry and governments to stop a potential global crisis.

Pollinators benefit production of more 75% of global food crops. We can thank them for foods like apples, strawberries, coffee and cocoa.

Among areas of research for the Reading team are how climate change and land use are affecting pollinators, and changes we can all make to protect them, from gardeners and farmers to governments.

The new research was carried out by scientists at the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading in collaboration with Cardiff University and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

The researchers worked in collaboration with local councils and Wildlife Trusts during the research including: Bristol City Council; City of Edinburgh Council; Leeds City Council; Reading Borough Council; Avon Wildlife Trust; Yorkshire Wildlife Trust; Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust and the National Museum of Wales.


Full reference:

Katherine C. R. Baldock, Mark A. Goddard, Damien M. Hicks, William E. Kunin, Nadine Mitschunas, Helen Morse, Lynne M. Osgathorpe, Simon G. Potts, Kirsty M. Robertson, Anna V. Scott, Phillip P. A. Staniczenko, Graham N. Stone, Ian P. Vaughan and Jane Memmott (2019); ‘A systems approach reveals urban pollinator hotspots and conservation opportunities’; Nature Ecology and Evolution; doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0769-y


Image credit: Jan Bombus terrestris lucorum - Nadine Mitschunas

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