From: University of Leeds
Published February 4, 2016 07:15 AM

Loss of wild flowers matches pollinator decline

The first Britain-wide assessment of the value of wild flowers as food for pollinators shows that decreasing resources mirror the decline of pollinating insects.

The study, by researchers at the University of Leeds and University of Bristol supported by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Fera Science Ltd, combines vegetation surveys taken over the last 80 years with modern-day measurements of nectar to provide the most comprehensive assessment ever published.

An article published in the journal Nature today provides new evidence to support the link between plant and pollinator decline.

It reports substantial losses to nectar resources in England and Wales between the 1930s and 1970s – a period closely linked with agricultural intensification. 

By 1978, the researchers discovered that nectar resources had stabilised and actually increased from 2000. The findings fit nicely with a similar pattern in recent pollinator trends: two recent papers have suggested that declines in pollinator diversity in the mid-20th Century slowed down or partially reversed over recent decades.

Professor Bill Kunin, Professor of Ecology in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, said: “Wild bees and other insect pollinators are vital to the success of many important food crops and wild plants. It is therefore really important that we understand the relationships between floral resources and pollinating insect populations. Despite the stabilisation seen recently, our research shows significant long-term declines in the diversity of nectar sources mirrored in a fall in the diversity of pollinator species. We are at a point where only four plant species account for more than half the nectar in Britain.”

Professor Jane Memmott, Professor of Ecology at the University of Bristol, said: “Over the last few decades despite stabilisation, the diversity of nectar sources has declined – a trend seemingly mirrored in the diversity of pollinator species.”

The study also looked at the type of habitats most beneficial for pollinators, highlighting arable land as the poorest source of nectar: both in terms of amount and the diversity of sources. Improved grasslands could however contribute the most to national nectar supply if management favoured greater flowering of plants such as white clover.

Continue reading at the University of Leeds.

Wildflower image via Shutterstock.

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