Bee Diversity Higher in Cities

LONDON - Feb 13/15 - SNS -- Bees do as well in urban as rural areas, suggesting a strategy needs to be developed to help expand bee populations in urban areas and green spaces, according to researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading.

Developed in collaboration with the University of Cardiff the study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B does the first comparison of the suitability of different landscapes for pollinating insects across the United Kingdom.

Researchers found bee abundance did not differ between three studied landscapes (urban, farmland, nature reserves), but bee diversity was higher in urban areas than farmland. They also found that while hoverfly abundance was higher in farmland and nature reserves than urban sites, overall pollinator diversity did not differ significantly.

Lead researcher Dr Katherine Baldock, University of Bristol, said: "Bees are driven by the availability of food and suitable nesting sites. We found that there were equivalent numbers of bees in the three landscapes studied. In urban areas pollinators foraged on a wide variety of plant species, including many non-native garden plants, but visited a smaller proportion of the available plant species than those in other landscapes. This could be explained by the high diversity of plant species in urban areas."

The team compared flower visiting pollinator communities in 36 sites in and around some of the UK's largest towns and cities, recording a total of 7,412 insects visiting flowers. In the study, 11 rare or scarce species were recorded, four of which were also found in urban habitats.

The findings have important implications for pollinator conservation as urban areas in the UK continue to increase in size. The study concluded that 'urban areas growing and improving their value for pollinators should be part of any national strategy to conserve and restore pollinators'.

Professor Jane Memmott, University of Bristol, added: "Insect pollination has been valued at around £690M per year for UK crop production and many of these urban bees are essential for pollinating some of the fruits and vegetables which are grown in gardens and allotments. The findings offer incentives for policy makers to improve the quality of existing green spaces in urban areas, as urban habitats can contain remarkably high pollinator species richness."

The Insect Pollinators Initiative is joint-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust. It is managed under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership.

The research was conducted in collaboration with Avon Wildlife Trust, Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, Bristol City Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Leeds City Council, National Museum of Wales Cardiff, Reading Borough Council and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.