Quantifying the attractiveness of garden flowers for pollinators

Rollings, Rosi and Goulson, Dave (2019) Quantifying the attractiveness of garden flowers for pollinators. Journal of Insect Conservation. ISSN 1366-638X

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There is great interest in planting urban areas to benefit pollinating insects, with the potential that urban areas and gardens could act as an extensive network of pollinator-friendly habitats. However, there are a great many different plant cultivars available to the gardener, and a paucity of evidence-based advice as to which plants are truly most attractive to flower-visiting insects. Here, we report insect visitation to metre square plots of 111 different ornamental plant cultivars at a site in central UK. Data were collected over 5 years, and comprise over 9000 insect observations, which were identified to species (for honeybees and bumblebees) or as ‘solitary bees’, Syrphidae, Lepidoptera and ‘others’. Unlike some previous studies, we found no difference in numbers of insects attracted to native or non-native species, or according to whether plants were annuals, biennials or perennials, but we did find that native plants attracted a significantly higher diversity of flower-visiting insects. Overall, the most-visited plants were Calamintha nepeta, Helenium autumnale and Geranium rozanne. However, patterns of visitation were quite different for every insect taxa examined. For example, different species of short-tongued bumblebees showed little overlap in their most-preferred plant cultivars. Interestingly, very similar plant cultivars often attracted different insect communities; for example, 72% of visitors to Aster novi belgii were honeybees or bumblebees, while the related Anthemis tinctoria, which also has daisy-like flowers, did not attract a single honeybee or bumblebee but was popular with solitary bees, hoverflies, and ‘other’ pollinators. Some plant cultivars such as Eryngium planum and Myosotis arvensis were attractive to a broad range of insects, while others attracted only a few species but sometimes in large numbers, such as Veronicastrum virginicum and Helenium autumnale which were both visited predominantly by honey bees. It is clear that we do not yet fully understand what factors drive insect flower preferences. Recommendations are made as to which flower cultivars could be combined to provide forage for a diversity of pollinator groups over the season from early spring to autumn, though it must be born in mind that some plants are likely to perform differently when grown in different environmental conditions.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
Depositing User: David Goulson
Date Deposited: 30 Sep 2019 16:56
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2020 01:00
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/86617

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