Linking agriculture and land use change to pollinator populations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Biological Sciences

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 We have modelled nectar production at the national scale of Great Britain and found different habitats provide different amounts of nectar (Calcareous grassland is best, arable worst), quantified annual changes in nectar production, revealed that 50% of nectar in Great Britain comes from just three species of plant and that agri-environmental schemes contribute very little to national nectar provision. The work was published in Nature in February 2016.
Exploitation Route The work will be of practical relevance to people designing floral mixes for pollinator conservation.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description The main findings are at the invited resubmission stage; until they are published and we thereby make the data available, they can't be used. I don't know what the question below means "Date first materialized"?
First Year Of Impact 2015
 
Title Nectar Pollination database 
Description The amount of nectar in 260 UK flowering plants has been made available. The data is from: Baude, M., Kunin, W.E., Boatman, N.E, Davies, N., Gillespie, M.A.K., Morton, D., Smart, S.M. & Memmott, J. Historical nectar assessment reveals the fall and rise of floral resources in Britain, Nature, 530: 85-88. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None yet 
URL https://catalogue.ceh.ac.uk/documents/69402002-1676-4de9-a04e-d17e827db93
 
Description Case partner on a NERC PhD project supervised by Professor Jane Memmott 
Organisation Royal Horticultural Society
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The RHS is a case partner on a project that arose from the Urban Pollinators and the Linking agriculture and land use change to pollinator populations project
Collaborator Contribution Project only started 4 months ago, so a meeting plus £14K of funding.
Impact Project has only been running four months
Start Year 2017
 
Description BBC Interview for Farming Today on Radio 4 in Sept 2015 
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 Other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed for "Farming Today" on Radio 4. I spoke about the value of pollinators to farmers and spoke about strawberry and blueberry pollination. The interview lasted a couple of minutes and would have been heard by the general public (early rising ones as this was on very early in the morning) and by the farming community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Keynote talk at Tropical Biology Association, Xishuangbanna, China by Professor Jane Memmott 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote presentation at an International Conference presenting the data associated with this project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Plenary Talk at International Union for the Study of Social Insects, North-west European section 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Title of talk: Pollination and Seed Dispersal - social behaviour in an ecological context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Plenary talk given at the 3rd Symposium on Ecological Networks, Uppsala, Sweden by Jane Memmott 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Plenary talk on research conducted during this project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation to Bristol Allotment Holders AGM (Jane Memmott) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation to Bristol Allotment Holders AGM, City Hall: 'Urban Pollinators: Ecology and Conservation'

No actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Presentation to Dipterists Forum (Jane Memmott) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited presentation by Jane Memmott at Dipterists Forum AGM, Bristol: 'Diptera as Pollinators'

No actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Presentation to Friends of University of Bristol Botanic Gardens (Jane Memmott) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation to Friends of University of Bristol Botanic Gardens 'The impact of farming, urbanisation and alien planting on biodiversity'

No actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Soap Box Science talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Soapbox Science is a women in science activity where female scientists stand in a public place and talk about their science while standing on a soapbox. It involves talking for an hour to and with the general public in an informal manner i.e. no notes or powerpoint. See
http://soapboxscience.org/ for further information.
I spoke about the value of pollinators in food production and the pollinator projects running at Bristol
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description The Fogg Lecture, Queen Mary, University of London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I gave an invited seminar at Queen Mary, University of London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description The planting of a wildflower meadow on the University campus, organised by Professor Jane Memmott 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The University of Bristol planted a wildflower meadow in the middle of campus which was hugely attractive visually. It was done in collaboration with the local Wildlife Trust and billed as part of their My Wild City programme, the meadow being "My Wild University". The meadow was very successful and elicited positive comments from many users of the University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.avonwildlifetrust.org.uk/mywilduniversity
 
Description University of Bristol Bee and Pollination Festival 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Stand about the project and invited talk (Jane Memmott): 'The Forgotten Pollinators'
University of Bristol Bee and Pollination Festival http://www.bristol.ac.uk/botanic-garden/events/2013/97.html

No actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description University of Bristol Bee and Pollination Festival 2014 
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 Invited talk by Professor Jane Memmott: Habitats for pollinators - the good, the bad and the ugly (and what you can provide in your garden).
Stand about projects at University of Bristol Bee and Pollination Festival

No actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description University of Bristol Bee and Pollination Festival 2015 
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 Event on the role of pollinators in the food in your kitchen - common kitchen ingredients were on display (along with insects, nest boxes etc) and the pollinators responsible for strawberries, bananas, melon, apples, mango etc, etc were explained and discussed with several thousand people
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015