By Lucy Mahony, Fourth Year, Bioinformatics
Urban areas are just as important a food source for insects as nature reserves and agricultural land – all thanks to residential gardeners.
In an effort to see how we can best conserve our disappearing pollinators, researchers from the University of Bristol investigated whether nectar resources vary between different UK landscapes. No differences were found in the quantity of nectar when comparing urban, farmland and agricultural areas.
These surprising results have been attributed to residential gardeners providing little pockets of high plant diversity in their gardens. So much so, that they estimate gardens alone contribute to 85 percent of urban nectar.
The research also showed urban areas to come out on top when comparing the diversity of nectar. By gardeners planting a variety of non-native ornamental plants, they are providing insects with a wider assortment of nectar sources.
Even us university students can help provide a little oasis for our pollinator friends! Have a windowsill that gets plenty of sunshine? Fill it up with some nectar-rich plants from a local Bristolian plant store. Maybe switch out that trendy succulent collects for some colourful flowers! Leave your window open during the day and listen out for the little buzz of a grateful bee.
If you are interested in preserving the populations of pollinators, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has information on which garden plants are especially popular amongst insects depending on the season! If you are a fan of more exotic plants, you can feed UK insects too! The suggested plants listed are reviewed every year and updated in accordance with relevant new research.
One should note, that even though nectar is the most widespread food of insect pollinators, the diet of different pollinators can vary. Some pollinators do not only transport pollen, but consume it, whilst others feed on decaying organic matter. So, the more diverse your university garden is the better!
The world is facing a catastrophic biodiversity crisis, with insect populations plummeting. However, this research provides a glimmer of hope. As urban areas are likely to increase into the future, it is vital to prioritise the inclusion of green spaces in cities, in order to support the insects we rely on so much for crop pollination and ecosystem services.