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£1.3m research on urban insects begins in Bristol

Wasp on figwort

Wasp on figwort Professor Jane Memmott

A researcher collecting pollinators

A researcher collecting pollinators Professor Jane Memmott

Press release issued: 27 May 2011

The gardens of Westbury-on-Trym will play a key part in a new £1.3 million research project led by the University of Bristol into how urbanization is affecting bees, flies and other pollinating insects across the UK.

Over the next few months, teams of ecologists will be sampling plants, pollinators and their interactions within a 1km-square area of Bristol which encompasses three habitat types: city, farmland and nature reserve.  As part of the project they will visit 100 front gardens in Westbury-on-Trym to study the plants and insects there.

This fieldwork – the first stage in a three-year project – aims to discover where pollinators are found in the UK.  Rather than just counting species, the researchers will 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.  This initial stage of the research will cover twelve cities across the UK, starting with Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh.

Professor Jane Memmott of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences who is leading the project, said: “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 per cent of hoverfly species known from the UK were recorded in a single garden in Leicester, honey bees produce more honey in urban Birmingham than in the surrounding countryside, and data gathered over the last decade in and around Bristol suggest there is no difference in the richness of pollinator species inside and outside the city.

“Our fieldwork will provide exact data on where pollinators can be found in the UK which will ultimately help to bring about more effective conservation management of these important insects.  By using our data to better understand the urban habitat mosaic, local authorities will be able to integrate pollinator conservation into the 9 per cent of land that comprises urban areas in the UK.”

The second stage of the project will look in detail at pollinators in four UK cities (Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh), with the aim of quantifying the value for pollinators of various city habitats including industrial estates, school grounds, allotments and graveyards.  The final stage will ask whether conditions for urban pollinators can be improved. 

The research is funded by the Pollinator Initiative (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, NERC, Defra, The Welcome Trust and the Scottish Government).

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