Linking agriculture and land use change to pollinator populations

Lead Research Organisation: Food & Environment Research Agency -FERA
Department Name: Chemical Safety

Abstract

There is growing evidence that both domestic honeybees and wild pollinators are in decline in Britain, as are the wildflowers that they both use for food. We expect these declines are linked, but there is little evidence to demonstrate what the links are, and what can be done to halt or reverse them. Among the most likely explanations for these declines are changes in the way the British landscape is managed: loss of natural habitats and increasingly intensive agricultural practices. We will test for links between such land use changes and the condition of British pollinator populations. One aspect of our work involves examining how pollinator populations and land use have changed over time, to test whether pollinator losses are correlated with landscape changes. This is made difficult because there is no national monitoring programme for pollinators, and so we only have scattered information about pollinator changes. To overcome this problem, we will take two contrasting approaches: (1) comparing how land use has changed in areas where we know pollinator populations either have declined markedly or have not done so, and (2) repeating historical surveys of pollinators in sites chosen to have undergone different amounts of subsequent land use change. A second focus of our work will be on how current land uses link to current honeybee, wild pollinator and wildflower populations. To do so, we need to survey pollinators and wildflowers in sites with very different sets of conditions in a carefully controlled manner. First we will use existing datasets to estimate likely flower densities in different habitats and regions, as well as the distribution of habitat types (and changes in them), various aspects agricultural management (including pesticide usage), and the density of domestic honeybee colonies. We will then choose a set of 96 sites in six clusters across Britain, with sites chosen to represent a wide range of flower resources, different natural and agricultural habitats, different levels of pesticide use, and different numbers of domestic honeybee hives. We will survey wildflower and pollinator populations at these sites, observe how well flowers are pollinated, and test how well honeybees and one wild bee species perform when placed at the different sites. This will be the largest scale survey of flower resources and pollinator communities ever performed. We will then examine how well pollinator populations can be predicted from flower densities, and how both are affected by various aspects of land use and agricultural management. The final aspect of our work will be to apply these findings to make recommendations as to how both domestic honeybees and wild pollinators can best be protected. This will build off of the results of the previous sections, which will provide links between specific land management options and pollinator stocks. Such findings could be of use to farmers, beekeepers, conservationists and policy makers, and so we will involve all four of these communities in the project, involving representatives of each on a project Steering Committee. We will hold workshops both at the beginning of the project (to get ideas for additional issues to study) and at the end of the project (to discuss our findings and their policy implications). We will edit fact-sheets and briefing papers for these different communities, and distribute them in specialist magazines and through a project web site. We will also make information available on a public website, including teaching materials and other resources about pollinator declines.

Technical Summary

There is growing evidence of declines in honeybees and wild pollinators, and parallel declines in animal-pollinated plants. Many likely drivers of these changes involve shifts in land use and agricultural practice. We will examine links between pollinators, floral resources and land management, using both historical analyses and current observations. Historical analyses will involve (1) assessing land-use change in sites with contrasting recent pollinator dynamics, and (2) resurveys of pollinators in sites with contrasting land use changes. We will calculate land cover change for sites identified in a recent analysis as having experienced contrasting shifts in bee and in hoverfly diversity. Land cover change will be assessed relative to 1930's, 1990 and 2000 surveys. Land use change will also be calculated for sites where pollinator surveys were performed pre-1980; matched sets with contrasting changes will be resurveyed using original and standard protocols. Maps of current land management will be derived from landcover, crop, grazing, AES and pesticide datasets. Pollinator and floral resource surveys will be conducted in 96 contrasting landscapes within 6 regional clusters over 2 years. Honeybee and solitary bee colonies will be set out to test landscape effects on foraging and colony growth, and pollination services assessed on test plant arrays and wildflowers. Data will be analysed with Bayesian network methods to assess the importance of different variables in explaining floral resources, honeybee performance, wild pollinator status and pollination services. Potential mitigation options will be explored throughout the research, and workshops will be held at the beginning and end of the project to explore mitigation-related issues and to promulgate results. Project recommendations will be drafted for stakeholder communities (farmers, beekeepers, conservationists, policy-makers) and disseminated through specialist magazines and electronically.

Planned Impact

We expect the proposed research to have high scientific impact, high policy relevance, and to be of high interest to the general public. Scientific impact: Our proposed research will provide an important step forward in pollinator research, providing the strongest test to date of the role of land management and agriculture in bee declines. Our work will be by far the largest scale pollinator habitat and floral resource inventory ever carried out. We anticipate at least a dozen high impact publications will result from the work, ranging from highly applied analyses of drivers of honeybee colony mortality and wild pollinator diversity declines to more theoretical discussions of plant-pollinator interaction networks. Policy relevance: Our proposed research has a high potential for direct application: * We will assess what aspects of land use, agricultural practice (including pesticide usage), floral resources and competing pollinator densities are associated with honey production and colony mortality in domesticated honeybee stocks. * We will assess the impact of land use, agricultural management practices, floral resourses and competing honeybee densities on wild pollinator density and diversity, with special attention to the role of current mitigation practices (agri-environmental schemes) and to designing potential future mitigation methods Concerns about the viability of honeybee stocks and wild pollinator populations have been the subject of growing national, European and global policy concern in recent years. Our work will assess the importance of agricultural practices and land management in driving these losses, and as such, has a high potential impact. We expect our results will be directly relevant to policy formation, in particular to the development and assessment of agri-environmental schemes, of ESA guidelines, and other land-management related policy initiatives. Issues of land use and agricultural management have a broad policy interest beyond the specific issues affecting pollinators (e.g. CAP reform, Habitats initiative), and our work will also contribute to this much broader policy discussion. Public interest: The proposed research is of high potential public interest: both pollinating insects and the flowers upon which they feed are widely valued by the public, and there is great interest in the maintenance of the British rural environment more generally. Thus we expect the results of our work to be of interest to the press, and through them to the public at large. As a team, we have substantial experience dealing with journalists, and all five participating institutions maintain active press offices, with whom we have good relations. We will also make available information about the project and about pollinator losses more broadly, including primary and secondary school teaching materials, through a user-friendly public website. Impact actions: Our work will be of direct relevance to farmers (and other land managers), beekeepers, conservationists and policy makers. To enhance our engagement with these groups, we will establish a project Steering Committee, involving representatives from relevant stakeholder organisations. A broader set of stakeholders will be involved in two project workshops, at the start and close of the project. Project findings will be disseminated through leaflets in specialist magazines and though a public website.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This grant funded Fera as part of a consortium led by Leeds University, undertaking the IPI funded project 'Linking agriculture and land use change to pollinator populations'. Research fell into four main areas:
1. Providing data to assist in selection of experimental areas;
2. Investigating the effect of experimental variables on pollen collection and stored honey reserves by honeybees;
3. Investigating relationships between pesticide application, honeybees and wild bee populations;
4. Investigating factors affecting pollinator usage of farmland habitats providing floral resources

1. The project included a large-scale field study to investigate the effects of four potential drivers of population change in wild pollinators: habitat complexity, floral resources, pesticides and other agrochemicals, and domestic honeybees. Experimental sites were located in six 100 x 100 km squares within Great Britain, chosen to be representative of the country as a whole. Within each square, there were 16 study sites in a factorial structure, each with high or low levels of each of the four factors under investigation. Fera provided spatial data on pesticide use, honeybee abundance and crop distribution (contributing to estimation of floral resources) to help with the selection of study sites within the study areas.
2. Honeybee colonies were deployed in 24 of the study sites (4 in each large study area) with contrasting habitat complexity and floral resources, in two summers during the project. Weight of pollen collected and accumulated honey reserves were measured over a two-week period in each deployment. Diversity of collected pollen species was negatively related to habitat complexity, but positively related to floral species richness in the landscape. There was also a positive relationship between amount of stored honey and the floral nectar resource in the landscape.
3. Potential risk to honeybees arising from pesticide use in the UK was mapped in 2 x 2 km cells by combining data from the Pesticide Usage Survey (PUS), the Defra June Agricultural Survey (JAS) and honeybee forager numbers derived from survey data collected by the National Bee Unit. Pesticide applications to oilseed rape were found to be the major contributors to risk for honeybees. In a separate collaboration with CEH, data on wild bee distributions were combined with PUS and JAS data to investigate relationships between neonicotinoid use and wild bee populations. Significant relationships were found between neonicotinoid usage and population changes in around 2/3 of the species investigated. Both these studies have been submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
4. Surveys of plants and pollinators in were carried out in 2013 in areas of suitable habitats, including Nectar Mixtures, Wild Bird Seed Mixtures, species-rich grasslands, hay meadows and field margins/road verges. Numbers of flowers of each plant species and pollinating insects visiting flowers were recorded in transects in each habitat. Nectar and pollen production for each site was calculated using a database of nectar and pollen values for each species, developed by Bristol University. For bumblebees, key factors were nectar provision, aspect, temperature and sunshine. For hoverflies, flower numbers, month, aspect and slope were significant. Data from this study have been included in a recent paper published in Nature
Exploitation Route The results will contribute to the body of evidence on causes of declines in pollinators and how these may be mitigated, and contribute to the debate on the possible role of insecticides as a driver of pollinator population changes. They will inform the implementation of the National Pollinator Strategy and the development of advice provision through the 'Bees Needs' website. Information sheets currently available on this website have already drawn on preliminary results from the project. Findings will also feed into the development of the new agri-environment scheme (information has already been provided to Natural England).
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Education,Environment

URL http://www.agriland.leeds.ac.uk/news/index.php
 
Description Some of the findings from the project were incorporated into advice provided by Defra through the 'Pollinator Call to Action' associated with the National Pollinator Strategy, in the form of information sheets available on the 'BeesNeeds' website http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/bees-needs. These findings have also been communicated to Natural England and may be used in the development of the new agri-environment scheme in England. They were used in an evaluation of the environmental impacts of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) by Fera
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Agriland partnership 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council
Department Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My research team and I have provided primary and derived datasets to aid selection of study sites. We have also carried out analyses of combined datasets to provide evidence on potential impacts of pesticides on pollinators. We have contributed to field experimentation through the provision of honeybee colonies and recording of data on pollen collection, brood and honey production. We have also carried out field work to assess the provision of floral resources by agri-environment schemes.
Collaborator Contribution The University of Bristol measured pollen and nectar production by 175 native flowering plants. The resulting database was used to prepare an assessment of the production of floral resources across Britain, in combination with Countryside Survey data. Species nectar and pollen values were used by Fera to estimate production floral resources per unit area for flower-rich habitats on farmland. The University of Leeds set up a large scale field study on 96 sites across Britain and monitored landscape diversity, wild plant and pollinator populations within the study sites. These data were combined with data from honeybee colonies deployed by Fera in combined analyses of impact on foraging, honey and brood production. The University of Reading monitored pollinators in sites with historic data and examined relationships between changes in pollinator diversity and land use change. CEH provided analyses based on the ITE Land class and Land Cover Map to underpin the selection of study areas for the large scale field study and contributed to ground-truthing the resulting sites.
Impact As analysis is still ongoing or recently completed for much of the work, outputs are still in preparation. The following papers have been submitted to peer-reviewed journals: Woodcock, B.A., Isaac, N.J.B., Bullock, J.M., Roy, D.B., Garthwaite, D.G., Crowe, A. & Pywell, R.F. Neonicotinoid pesticides and long-term distribution changes of wild bees in England Crowe, A.M., Somerwill, K., Budge, G.E., Garthwaite, D.G., Boatman, N.D. Mapping the risk to honey bees from agricultural pesticide usage in Great Britain.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Agriland partnership 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My research team and I have provided primary and derived datasets to aid selection of study sites. We have also carried out analyses of combined datasets to provide evidence on potential impacts of pesticides on pollinators. We have contributed to field experimentation through the provision of honeybee colonies and recording of data on pollen collection, brood and honey production. We have also carried out field work to assess the provision of floral resources by agri-environment schemes.
Collaborator Contribution The University of Bristol measured pollen and nectar production by 175 native flowering plants. The resulting database was used to prepare an assessment of the production of floral resources across Britain, in combination with Countryside Survey data. Species nectar and pollen values were used by Fera to estimate production floral resources per unit area for flower-rich habitats on farmland. The University of Leeds set up a large scale field study on 96 sites across Britain and monitored landscape diversity, wild plant and pollinator populations within the study sites. These data were combined with data from honeybee colonies deployed by Fera in combined analyses of impact on foraging, honey and brood production. The University of Reading monitored pollinators in sites with historic data and examined relationships between changes in pollinator diversity and land use change. CEH provided analyses based on the ITE Land class and Land Cover Map to underpin the selection of study areas for the large scale field study and contributed to ground-truthing the resulting sites.
Impact As analysis is still ongoing or recently completed for much of the work, outputs are still in preparation. The following papers have been submitted to peer-reviewed journals: Woodcock, B.A., Isaac, N.J.B., Bullock, J.M., Roy, D.B., Garthwaite, D.G., Crowe, A. & Pywell, R.F. Neonicotinoid pesticides and long-term distribution changes of wild bees in England Crowe, A.M., Somerwill, K., Budge, G.E., Garthwaite, D.G., Boatman, N.D. Mapping the risk to honey bees from agricultural pesticide usage in Great Britain.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Agriland partnership 
Organisation University of Leeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My research team and I have provided primary and derived datasets to aid selection of study sites. We have also carried out analyses of combined datasets to provide evidence on potential impacts of pesticides on pollinators. We have contributed to field experimentation through the provision of honeybee colonies and recording of data on pollen collection, brood and honey production. We have also carried out field work to assess the provision of floral resources by agri-environment schemes.
Collaborator Contribution The University of Bristol measured pollen and nectar production by 175 native flowering plants. The resulting database was used to prepare an assessment of the production of floral resources across Britain, in combination with Countryside Survey data. Species nectar and pollen values were used by Fera to estimate production floral resources per unit area for flower-rich habitats on farmland. The University of Leeds set up a large scale field study on 96 sites across Britain and monitored landscape diversity, wild plant and pollinator populations within the study sites. These data were combined with data from honeybee colonies deployed by Fera in combined analyses of impact on foraging, honey and brood production. The University of Reading monitored pollinators in sites with historic data and examined relationships between changes in pollinator diversity and land use change. CEH provided analyses based on the ITE Land class and Land Cover Map to underpin the selection of study areas for the large scale field study and contributed to ground-truthing the resulting sites.
Impact As analysis is still ongoing or recently completed for much of the work, outputs are still in preparation. The following papers have been submitted to peer-reviewed journals: Woodcock, B.A., Isaac, N.J.B., Bullock, J.M., Roy, D.B., Garthwaite, D.G., Crowe, A. & Pywell, R.F. Neonicotinoid pesticides and long-term distribution changes of wild bees in England Crowe, A.M., Somerwill, K., Budge, G.E., Garthwaite, D.G., Boatman, N.D. Mapping the risk to honey bees from agricultural pesticide usage in Great Britain.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Agriland partnership 
Organisation University of Reading
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My research team and I have provided primary and derived datasets to aid selection of study sites. We have also carried out analyses of combined datasets to provide evidence on potential impacts of pesticides on pollinators. We have contributed to field experimentation through the provision of honeybee colonies and recording of data on pollen collection, brood and honey production. We have also carried out field work to assess the provision of floral resources by agri-environment schemes.
Collaborator Contribution The University of Bristol measured pollen and nectar production by 175 native flowering plants. The resulting database was used to prepare an assessment of the production of floral resources across Britain, in combination with Countryside Survey data. Species nectar and pollen values were used by Fera to estimate production floral resources per unit area for flower-rich habitats on farmland. The University of Leeds set up a large scale field study on 96 sites across Britain and monitored landscape diversity, wild plant and pollinator populations within the study sites. These data were combined with data from honeybee colonies deployed by Fera in combined analyses of impact on foraging, honey and brood production. The University of Reading monitored pollinators in sites with historic data and examined relationships between changes in pollinator diversity and land use change. CEH provided analyses based on the ITE Land class and Land Cover Map to underpin the selection of study areas for the large scale field study and contributed to ground-truthing the resulting sites.
Impact As analysis is still ongoing or recently completed for much of the work, outputs are still in preparation. The following papers have been submitted to peer-reviewed journals: Woodcock, B.A., Isaac, N.J.B., Bullock, J.M., Roy, D.B., Garthwaite, D.G., Crowe, A. & Pywell, R.F. Neonicotinoid pesticides and long-term distribution changes of wild bees in England Crowe, A.M., Somerwill, K., Budge, G.E., Garthwaite, D.G., Boatman, N.D. Mapping the risk to honey bees from agricultural pesticide usage in Great Britain.
Start Year 2010
 
Description 'Call to Action' workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The workshop resulted in a plan for the 'Call to Action'

The Call to Action was implemented as a result of this workshop, resulting in publicising of five simple actions via the Defra and 'Bees Needs' websites, and production of a video highlighting declines in pollinators, likely causes and what the public can do to help.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/news/bees-needs-public-urged-to-support-pollinators
 
Description British Beekeepers Association Spring Convention 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The talk resulted in a number of questions afterwards, both during the session and in the following refreshment break.

Delegates requested further information about project results
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.bbka.org.uk/news_and_events/spring_convention.php
 
Description Conference organised by TSGE Forum on 'impact of agriculture on pollinating insects' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact There were questions after the talk and a discussion with a panel of the speakers at the end of the session.

The audience was mainly composed of industry representatives and there were also some journalists. The information presented influenced thinking on the importance of landscape factors in relation ot other factors influencing pollinator populations. Several delegates asked further questions individually during the lunch break and contacts were made which were useful in identifying study sites for field work later in the season.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.tsgeforum.com/event-detail/?ee=15
 
Description Defra Pollinator Strategic Evidence Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The group provided evidence for Ministers and policy makers , reviewed and approved reports from the external Exppert Advisory group, made recommendations for further evidence requirements and provided evidence to inform the development of the National Pollinator Strategy

The group provided support and direction for the development of the National Pollinator Strategy and supporting initiatives (e.g. the Pollinator 'Call to Action' and 'Bees Needs' website).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description Demonstration stand at 'Cereals' events 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project was demonstrated to farmers with the aid of poster boards, plots of flowering plant mixtures and, in one year, a live bumblebee colony. There was interest from visitors to the stand in seed mixtures to create habitats on farms for pollinators, and potential impacts of pesticides.

Information was provided in response to a range of individual queries, for example sources of seed to establish pollen and nectar mixtures. A number of sites were also identified for project field work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014
 
Description ELN-FAB seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The talk was part of a progamme at a meeting held by the European Learning network on Functional AgroBiodiversity on 'Functional agrobiodiversity in North-West Europe - what does the future hold?'. It was one of two keynote talks to stimulate discussion in a following series of facilitated workshops.

Facilitated networking at a European level
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.eln-fab.eu/index.php?do=page&lang=en&id=25
 
Description Fera science conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Raised awareness of work funded by the IPI

awaremess of the work led to later contacts with regard to joint applications for funding
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description National Pollinator Strategy Stakeholder Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The results of the discussions informed the development of the National Pollinator Strategy

see above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/national-pollinator-strategy-for-bees-and-other-pollinat...
 
Description Stakeholder workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This workshop was organised by project staff and held at Fera to publicise the project and disseminate emerging findings. Presentations were followed by lively discussion and active participation in breakout groups. Tours of the facilities connected with pollinator research were also provided.

Feedback from a number of the delegates indicated that they had found the workshop very informative, interesting and stimulating
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014