The global diversity of plants being cultivated by Britain's gardeners is playing a key role in the fight to save the nation's threatened bumblebees, new research has revealed.
Ecologists at Plymouth University, in a study published this week, have shown the most common species of bumblebee are not fussy about a plant's origin when searching for nectar and pollen among the nation's urban gardens.
But other species and, in particular, long-tongued bees do concentrate their feeding upon plants from the UK and Europe, for which they have developed a preference evolved over many millennia.
Dr Mick Hanley, Lecturer in Ecology at Plymouth University, said the study showed the continued importance of promoting diversity and encouraging gardeners to cast their net wide when choosing what to cultivate.
"Urban gardens are increasingly recognised for their potential to maintain or even enhance biodiversity," Dr Hanley said. "In particular, the presence of large densities and varieties of flowering plants supports a number of pollinating insects whose range and abundance has declined as a consequence of agricultural intensification and habitat loss. By growing a variety of plants from around the world, gardeners ensure that a range of food sources is available for many different pollinators. But until now we have had very little idea about how the origins of garden plants actually affect their use by our native pollinators."
The study, in the forthcoming April issue of the journal Annals of Botany (published by Oxford University Press), set out to examine whether bumblebees preferentially visited plants with which they share a common biogeographical heritage, with researchers conducting summer-long surveys along a typical residential street.
It showed that rather than discriminating between Palaearctic (a range extending across Europe, north Africa and northern Asia) and non-Palaearctic garden plants, bees simp
|Contact: Alan Williams|
University of Plymouth