In our guest blog today Dr Lorna J Cole, Agricultural Ecologist, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), talks about how a diversity of well-connected, floristically-diverse, habitats will help to ensure that our countryside supports healthy pollinator populations
Insects that pollinate our flowers require a diversity of plants to sustain healthy populations. Plants provide pollinators with sugar-rich nectar to fuel flight and protein-rich pollen to help rear larvae. In return, flower visiting insects transfer pollen supporting plant reproduction. Foraging pollinators seek specific flowers to meet their nutritional demands, for example, knapweed and thistles are rich in nectar whereas clovers have protein-rich pollen. As plant species flower at different points in the season, a diversity of flowering plants is required to ensure a continuous supply of pollen and nectar.
Different habitats support different flowering plants. Just think of heather moorland with its variety of heather species, bog asphodel and blaeberry, or species-rich grasslands colourful with ragged robin, devil’s bit scabious and red clover.
With many pollinators being highly mobile they can move between habitats, searching for food. Little is, however, known about how pollinators track food resources in a landscape. To try and shed some light on this, researchers at SRUC established a landscape scale study. The two key aims of the study were:
- To investigate which habitats provided key foraging resources for pollinators
- To determine how the value of these habitats changed through the flowering season
The research found that habitats showed clear differences in botanical diversity with road verges, buffer strips and scrub providing particularly rich foraging habitats. Peak flowering times varied between habitats indicating that their potential to provide food differed during the season. Pollinators tracked floral resources at the landscape scale, dynamically switching to the most profitable foraging habitats.
This research highlights that the conservation of insect pollinators requires a landscape scale approach. A diversity of well-connected, floristically diverse habitats will help to ensure that our countryside supports healthy pollinator populations and protect the pollination services that they provide.