Urban pollinators: their ecology and conservation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Agriculture Policy and Dev

Abstract

There are two schools of thought concerning the effect of urbanization on pollinating insects. On one hand, urbanization is considered to be one of the major causes of insect decline, in particular through the alteration of ecological features important to pollinators, such as food and nesting sites. On the other hand, some urban habitats are remarkably good for pollinators: 35% of hoverfly species known from the UK were recorded in a single garden in Leicester, and urban habitats are one of the few habitats where bumblebees are not declining. Our research will start by asking where pollinators are found in the UK landscape, by comparing pollinator diversity in three habitats: cities, farmland and nature reserves. Rather than just counting species though, we will use a systems approach to study the network of interactions between plants and their pollinators, as these interactions have a profound impact on a community's response to species loss, stress and ecological restoration. In the second stage of the proposed research, we will look in detail at the pollinator fauna of four cities (Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh), with the aim of quantifying the value for pollinators of various city habitats. While ecologists know a little about the value of urban gardens for pollinators, practically nothing is known about the value of industrial estates, school grounds, allotments, graveyards and the many other habitats found in cities. Our pilot data suggest that some habitats can be remarkably good for pollinators, or can be managed to be so. Again a network approach will be used, and the impact of change will be predicted using an entirely new mathematical tool - one which combines data on the network of interactions linking pollinators to flowers with data on meta-community ecology (how the whole system of local pollination networks responds to species loss and species dispersal). In the final stage of our proposed research, we ask whether we can improve conditions for urban pollinators. We will use a large-scale field experiment, replicated in four cities, in which we will manipulate pollinator food supplies by introducing an urban version of the field margins sown with 'nectar flower mixtures' on farmland to conserve pollinators. Our plant mixes will be chosen to provide pollinator food, be low-maintenance, and look attractive to the human eye. Working with local professional conservation practitioners in each city (seven of these are named collaborators on the proposal), treatments will be implemented in a bold experimental design in four cities. As can be seen from the letters of support, our project will provide the exact data that practitioners need for evidence-based conservation management of pollinators. Moreover, The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 states that public authorities must have regard to conserving biodiversity. Evidence-based urban planning offers considerable promise for pollinator conservation. By using our data to understand the value and spatial properties of the urban habitat mosaic, Local Authorities will be able to integrate pollinator conservation into the 9% of land that comprises urban areas in the UK. Members of the proposed research team have the skills, experience and wherewithal to improve pollinator conservation significantly in the UK. Led by Memmott, the team consists of university-based pollination ecologists, taxonomists to identify the many hundreds of species that will be found, and conservation ecologists, with long-term interests and influence in urban areas, to implement the changes needed to conserve both the pollinators and the ecosystem services they provide. Our research proposal is exciting, timely, pioneering and ambitious. It is also very feasible, as a clear management structure is in place. We will provide both scientific excellence and immediate conservation impact.

Technical Summary

In this project a multidisciplinary team of ecologists, conservation practitioners and taxonomists will use a systems approach to study the impact of land use change on pollinators. The mathematics that predicts the system's response to change are models that predict the robustness of the community to environmental change. There are three stages to our research programme: STAGE 1: While there is a growing appreciation of the value of urban habitats to pollinators, in reality we do not know their worth in comparison to other habitats. Here, we will sample replicate urban habitats, agro-ecosystems and nature reserves for pollinators and their interactions with plants. Our replicate networks will be used to identify the factors and processes that act as filters following land use changes due to urbanization. STAGE 2: We will identify the hot spots of pollinator abundance and diversity in urban habitats by constructing spatially explicit plant-pollinator networks for four cities. We will combine these data with estimates of pollinator dispersal from the literature, this providing us with plant-pollinator meta-communities. We will then simulate the effect of habitat loss on these meta-communities. STAGE 3: Working closely with our practitioner collaborators, we will add urban equivalents of the nectar mixes used in agri-environmental schemes to the four cities as pollinator conservation measure. We will use a stratified, randomized design with urban margins added to increasingly urbanized zones. Memmott will lead the project overall. Other PIs are based in Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh and each will supervise the project staff based in their city. Good communication between the groups will be ensured by timetabled meetings. In summary, the research will provide scientific excellence and real impact to pollinator conservation.

Planned Impact

The users and beneficiaries of our research, outside the academic community, are listed below. Our research will have an immediate impact on pollinators via the conservation practitioners. and our city field sites will enable us to showcase the importance of pollinators to a large swathe of the general public. 1) CONSERVATION PRACTITIONERS: Our research provides the exact type of data that conservation practitioners working in urban habitats require to manage pollinator biodiversity. Thus, the project will give the Wildlife Trusts and other conservation organisations practical assistance in making decisions for urban conservation and land and wildlife management, in the face of rapid development (see e.g. letters of support from Rogers, Fieldhouse, Hall & Smithson). Moreover it will broaden the practitioners' knowledge base of each city's pollinator diversity, and allow the possibility of designating particularly species-rich sites as Local Biodiversity Sites (see letter of support from Fraser). Seven practitioners are collaborators on our project, making it simple to keep them informed of the projects, progress, results and recommendations. We will convey our results to the rest of the UK conservation practitioner community via a Practitioners' Conference. Memmott will organise this Conference and invite the following people to attend: the staff member responsible for reserve management from each of the Wildlife Trusts (n = 47), the County Ecologist (or equivalent) from each UK City (n = 66), PhD students and PDRAs from each of the four Universities involved (n=28). These combined with the academic team of staff (n = 11) leads to 152 delegates. We will cover the costs of conference attendance, as funds to work on biodiversity tend to be very limited for conservation practitioners, and we want guaranteed participation to achieve a guaranteed impact. The conference (see full impact plan for schedule) will spread the ethos, methods, results and recommendations of our research to the very people who have the wherewithal to implement our recommendations in the UK. Moreover, our long-term plan is to implement a country-wide roll out phase of the urban margins as a testable experiment, and the conference will facilitate this process by identifying future project partners. After the conference, we will submit articles about the project to the publications to which many practitioners subscribe, e.g. British Wildlife, ECOS - a review of conservation, and Conservation Management. 2) SCHOOL-CHILDREN AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC: Two approaches will be used to put our research and data into the public arena: a) A 'Meet a Bee' event will be run in eight schools in each city. We will run these in collaboration with the Wildlife Trusts, who will provide contacts and ready access to schools in cities. b) We will use notice boards at all our urban field margins (n=64) to showcase the importance of pollinators and to explain our research. Our field sites are in four large cities, which are home to millions of people. IMPACT PLAN COSTING: Our impact plan is ambitious but effective and the costs are very reasonable when weighed against the likely impact: implementation of our recommendations throughout the UK.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This project has been investigating three questions: 1) How does the insect pollinator biodiversity in urban areas compare to that of nature reserves and farmland? 2) Where are the hot-spots of insect pollinator biodiversity in urban environments? 3) How can we improve insect pollinator diversity and abundance in urban areas? The project team includes academics from the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, and Reading, taxonomists at the National Museums of Wales, local councils, and local Wildlife Trusts.

1. Comparing urban areas to farmland and nature reserves
To examine how the pollinator communities in urban areas compare to other habitats, the project team sampled pollinators in farmland, nature reserve and urban sites in and around 12 cities across the UK, from Dundee in the north to Southampton on the south coast. A dedicated team of fieldworkers recorded insects visiting flowers and the plant species on which they were feeding across the 36 sites. Results suggest that whilst urban areas contain fewer pollinators overall, the abundance and species richness of bees in urban areas is equivalent to or better than other habitats.

2. Urban pollinator hotspots
Urban habitats were sampled intensively in four cities (Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh) over two years to quantify pollinator abundance and diversity in nine urban habitats. Pollinators were sampled in 360 different locations across the four cities and sampling sites included over 400 gardens. Other sites sampled were allotments, gardens, parks, cemeteries, car parks, urban nature reserves, road verges, other greenspace and manmade surfaces. Pollinators and flowering plants were recorded along sampling walks at each site. The preliminary findings suggest that allotments and gardens contain high numbers of pollinators. Multiplying the data up to the level of whole cities indicates that gardens are likely to provide key habitat for pollinators at a city scale as they contain high pollinator numbers and comprise approximately one third of urban land. Parks and other amenity greenspace are a key urban land type on which conservation efforts could be focused as they make up a large proportion of urban land but contain comparatively fewer pollinators.

3. Urban flower meadows
In the third phase of the project we examined if the addition of urban flower meadows containing nectar- and pollen-rich plant species can improve conditions for pollinators in urban areas. In partnership with local councils, sixty large flower meadows were planted in areas of amenity grassland in Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh in 2013. Three types of meadows were sown: a perennial mix, and two types of annual meadows with differing management strategies. Insect pollinators visiting meadow flowers were sampled at monthly intervals. Feedback from the public was incredibly positive and the meadows were popular with insects too. The results from this study are being collated and full analyses are yet to take place.
Exploitation Route Impact, knowledge exchange and outreach
Council and Wildlife Trust practitioners have been engaged with the project from its inception and the information will be made available to practitioners in a format that will allow them to apply the project findings in urban areas across the UK. The project impact plan comprised a conference for UK conservation practitioners and outreach work with schools in each of the four cities. The conference for practitioners took place in September 2014 generated much positive feedback and will guide the direction of future knowledge exchange activities.

Throughout the project the team have engaged with the public and other stakeholders via the project website, blog and Twitter accounts to great success. Numerous outreach activities including talks to beekeepers and allotment associations and presentations at pollination festivals and Eco-schools events have enabled the research to reach a broad audience.
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.bristol.ac.uk/biology/research/ecological/community/pollinators/
 
Description To date the project has 3 publications and more than 28 engagement activities. Impact, knowledge exchange and outreach Council and Wildlife Trust practitioners have been engaged with the project from its inception and the information will be made available to practitioners in a format that will allow them to apply the project findings in urban areas across the UK. The project impact plan comprised a conference for UK conservation practitioners and outreach work with schools in each of the four cities. The conference for practitioners took place in September 2014 generated much positive feedback and will guide the direction of future knowledge exchange activities. Throughout the project the team have engaged with the public and other stakeholders via the project website, blog and Twitter accounts to great success. Numerous outreach activities including talks to beekeepers and allotment associations and presentations at pollination festivals and Eco-schools events have enabled the research to reach a broad audience.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Defra's Pollinator Advisory Steering Group
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Advisory role
 
Description Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): Co-Chair of the thematic assessment of pollinators, pollination and food production
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description Member of Pollinators Expert Advisory Group for Defra
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in advisory committee
Impact The Pollinators Expert Advisory Group is an independent panel of experts, brought together by Defra's Chief Scientist Professor, to oversee a range of activities that will contribute to the development of the National Pollinator Strategy (NPS).
 
Description Policy and Practice Note 20 Managing urban areas for insect pollinators
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
 
Description Project papers cited in the The assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on pollinators, pollination and food production.
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact The IPBES report was the basis for a series of recommendations I co-developed with the Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA). These were then taken forward to the CBD 13th Conference of Parties in Cancun Mexico in Dec 2016, where they were fully adopted by the 196 CBD signatory countries.https://www.ipbes.net/sites/default/files/downloads/pdf/individual_chapters_pollination_20170305.pdf
URL https://www.ipbes.net/deliverables/3a-pollination
 
Description "Values that pollinators bring to society" - exhibition at Kew 
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 A major outreach event "Values that pollinators bring to society" which showcased our research at Reading. It took place at Kew Gardens on 20 July 2017. My team of 24 people ran 18 events throughout the day, including: talks, exhibitions, interactive games, practical demonstrations, and myth-busting sessions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description "Values that pollinators bring to society" exhibition at Kew Gardens, 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact "Values that pollinators bring to society" which showcased our research at Reading. It took place at Kew Gardens on 29 October 2016 and there were an estimated 5-6,000 visitors. My team of 26 people ran 15 events throughout the day, including: talks, exhibitions, interactive games, practical demonstrations, and myth-busting sessions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Bee declines 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview on the Anne Diamond Radio Berkshire show about Bee decline

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Bee hotels to support pollination services 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Appeared on ITV News opening a Bee Hotel and discussing the project.

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Bees, Butterflies and Blooms 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC2 documentary

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description City Life of Bees 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Wellcome Trust documentary "City life of bees" - spring 2014

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Costing the Earth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC Radio 4 documentary series

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Film: How to save the bees 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A short film very widely disseminated

Increased awareness
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u8tv8DQxI0
 
Description Friends of Harris Garden 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public talk focuing on bee diversity and current research including IPI

Reading University, Biology Department Lecture Hall

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Great Garden Revival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Scientific advisor for BBC TV series

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.UKSO.org
 
Description Identifying and implementing novel research actions to support the National Pollinator Strategy workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Enhanced dialogue between research and policy communities around pollinators; new projects and publications

Review paper, concrete research proposals, better framing of policy evidence needs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Invited keynote speaker, Connecticut College, New London, USA, Pollinators, pollination and food production Around the World: What does the evidence really tell us? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Awareness building and mythbusting
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited keynote speaker, European Pollinators Initiative, Brussels, Belgium, European Pollinators Initiative: Global context 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited keynote speaker, European Pollinators Initiative, Brussels, Belgium, European Pollinators Initiative: Global context
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Knowledge Exchange: Dialogues between Scientists, Practitioners and Policy 
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 Workshop at CSIRO, Brisbane, Australia

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description MERL Jubilee Village Fete 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Display stand in the fete with Reading in Bloom
Posters, leaflets, games

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description National Insect Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Travelling roadshow with pollinator exhibition stand A series of displays and demonstrations to members of the public during National Insect Week 25th of June to 1st of July. Display stands, posters, leaflets, games

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Reading's insect life researched in new wildflower meadows 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC News Berkshire web article

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Royal Berkshire Show 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Royal Berkshire Show, Pollinator shopping game and exhibitions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Science Oxford Bio Blitz 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Display stand in a park where various Bio Blitz activities were being run
Posters, leaflets

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Shared Planet 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC Radio 4

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://nautil.us/blog/1_trick-chameleon-predators-learn-to-see-through-camouflage
 
Description Talk: What's all the buzz about? UKRC-funded pollinator research is world-leading 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk highlighting RCUK funded research outputs and impacts given to staff at Polaris House, Swindon
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Threats to an ecosystem service: evaluating multifactorial pressures on insect pollinators 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Chair of Symposium at INTECOL 2013, Excel, London, UK

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Urban Pollinators Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Talk about Urban Pollinators Project

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Urban Pollinators Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation to Friends of Harris Garden

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Urban bees - BBC Radio Berkshire 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview about the importance of urban pollinators and how we can help support them in cities

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Urban bees - Get Reading web article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Description of urban bees project in Reading

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Using flower power to create a buzzing environment in Reading 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article in The Reading Chronicle

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Values that pollinators bring to society - exhibition at kew Gardens 
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 A major outreach event "Values that pollinators bring to society" which showcased our research at Reading. It took place at Kew Gardens on 29 October 2016 and there were an estimated 5-6,000 visitors. My team of 26 people ran 15 events throughout the day, including: talks, exhibitions, interactive games, practical demonstrations, and myth-busting sessions. Highlights of the event have been captured on a short video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HM4dQuaMSs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HM4dQuaMSs
 
Description What is pollination and what are pollinators? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Education trainee teachers about pollination and pollinator diversity
Posters, leaflets, games

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description What's killing our bees (BBC 2) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC 2 Horizon

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b037y0zf
 
Description What's killing our bees (England) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC Radio Berkshire

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description What's killing our bees (Wales) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC Radio Wales

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Wild about mid Sussex 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Display stand in a sports hall full of other similar stalls, Poster, leaflets, games. Engaged with the public.

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012