Urban bee diversity – a new study

Bee on apple blossom 2 - 1st May 2015

Over the past couple of years I’ve mentioned urban pollinators, and specifically the work of my PhD student Muzafar Hussain Sirohi, several times; for example here and here.  Muzafar is currently finishing off the writing of his thesis, and during that time he’s also managed to publish the first paper from the study.

We are really pleased with this paper because not only is it the product of a lot of hard work to systematically sample and identify the bees, but the results are really exciting: Muzafar has shown that the centre of Northampton is home to a more diverse set of bee species than expected. In fact at least 50 species of bees are thought to live within a 500m radius of All Saints Church, which is significantly more than are found in the nature reserves at the edge of the town.

Muzafar’s work involved surveying the small gardens, road verges, traffic islands, and other patches of plants in the urban centre of Northampton.  These areas provide important nectar and pollen sources for the bees, whilst old stone walls and bare soil offer opportunities for nesting sites. This community of bees includes one nationally rare Red Data Book species called Coelioxys quadridentata that is known from rather few sites.

Our estimate of about 50 species of bees is certainly too low because we focussed on the more neglected groups of bees and didn’t include the social bumblebees. The true figure is likely to be over 60 species, a remarkable number given the small area surveyed.

As I’ve discussed many times on this blog, pollinators such as bees are hugely important both ecologically (most plants require them for reproduction) and economically (much of our food production relies directly or indirectly on pollination by animals). However a significant proportion of bee species in the UK are declining in abundance, and some have gone extinct. Understanding how these bees are distributed across the landscape, including urban areas, is crucial to the conservation of such pollinators in a rapidly changing world. The project therefore has implications not only for conservation of biodiversity, but also food security, given the number of urban gardeners who grow their own food, and the ability of many bees to travel significant distance from urban to rural areas.

The research is published in the international, peer-reviewed Journal of Insect Conservation. The full reference (with a link to the abstract) is:

Sirohi, M.H., Jackson, J., Edwards, M. & Ollerton, J. (2015) Diversity and abundance of solitary and primitively eusocial bees in an urban centre: a case study from Northampton (England). Journal of Insect Conservation DOI 10.1007/s10841-015-9769-2

If anyone would like to receive a PDF of the paper, please leave a comment below or drop me an email: jeff.ollerton[at]northampton.ac.uk

39 thoughts on “Urban bee diversity – a new study

  1. Andrea Worthington

    I would love a PDF of this paper. I teach plant ecology at a small college in the US and we spend a lot of time on pollination and health of pollinators.
    Andrea Worthington

  2. Pingback: Urban bee diversity – a new study | Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity Blog | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      On its way to you Gill, though I fear we didn’t include Bombus, in part because they are so mobile and it’s hard to determine whether they are really urban or just flying in from the countryside. However we know that several species do nest in the city centre.

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Thanks Phillip. It’s hard to be certain because you need to sample in the same way and studies are never standardised. But our comparisons with adjacent nature reserves suggest that urban bee diversity is around 20% higher. We also have a table in the paper which compares bee diversity found in other urban settings and the levels that we found compare very favourably with those.

  3. bradlaugh fields visitor

    Excellent news, congratulations. Often the public (and politicians’) perceptions of what counts as wildlife and what places and landscape components are genuinely valuable for wildlife are sadly at odds with the reality, so it’s vital to have more evidence of the huge value of our much-maligned urban and brownfield sites like the scruffy bit of land by the old bus-station for example. Research like this has a crucial role to play in improving public understanding and hopefully thus saving precious brownfield sites from the bulldozers, imo.

    Yes please for a PDF of the paper as well, and many thanks.

  4. Megan

    Thank you for your amazing work. I’m interested if you know anyone that is doing research pollinator load in a given area? We know when we don’t see many but what happens when say honey bee density in one area is high, and what is that limit based on nectar sources and the bloom calender? Know of anyone that might be able to give me some insight?

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Hi Megan – thanks for the comment. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “pollinator load” – do you mean the number of pollinators on a crop in a particular place?

      1. Megan Wannarka

        Yes the amount of pollinators in one place. Or if the amount of forage is too low or too competitive for the amount of bee/hives.

  5. Joanne Carnell

    Could I have a copy please? I’m looking into the value of urban gardens for pollinator conservation in my master’s project, so would love to have a read (Joanne.carnell@hotmail.co.uk) Excellent work. Thank you! Joanne

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  12. greengage

    I have recently come across your blog, fascinating reading and very enjoyable, As you can see I have been working through older posts and stumbled across this one, would it still be possible to receive a copy of this Sirohi, M.H., Jackson, J., Edwards, M. & Ollerton, J. (2015) Diversity and abundance of solitary and primitively eusocial bees in an urban centre: a case study from Northampton (England). Journal of Insect Conservation DOI 10.1007/s10841-015-9769-2.


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