The nice people at NHBS recently did a wide-ranging interview with me about my new book Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society and what led me to write it. It covers a lot of ground, including climate change, food security, the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, and growing up in Sunderland.
WARNING: There’s a high yuck factor to this post, it’s not for the squeamish or easily offended!
One of my Twitter contacts, Traci Birge in Finland, has been reading Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society, and making some very nice comments about it. I had to laugh at this one in which she describes some plants as “assholes” because of the way in which they deceive pollinators into visiting their flowers but offer no reward in return:
If you follow that thread you can see that Traci was closer to the truth than perhaps she realised: there are some plants with flowers that appear to mimic the anuses of dead mammals, particularly in the families Apocynaceae and Araceae. By their smell, texture, colour and hairiness they are fooling flies into visiting the flowers, because assholes, like any mammalian orifice, provide an entry point for maggots of carrion-feeding flies. Sometimes the deception is so great that the flies lay their eggs on these blooms, though of course the maggots starve.
A great example of an anus-mimicking bloom is the Dead Horse Arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus). Check out the image above: if that doesn’t look like a horse’s ass, I don’t know what does!
Other examples might be found within the stapeliads, especially the genus Huerniawhich often have a thickened annulus to the centre of the flower. However that could also be interpreted as mimicking an open, inflamed wound on the side of an animal:
As I point out in the book, you might imagine that there would be strong natural selection against flies visiting these flowers if they lose fitness by laying eggs on such an unsuitable substrate. But the flowers are tapping into really deep-seated behaviours and clearly the flies can’t distinguish the flowers from the real thing.
This is flower pollination that is far removed from the deliciously perfumed, cute-and-cuddly, heart-warming world of bees and flowers. Isn’t nature wonderful?
Towns and cities are ecologically complex environments where nature finds a home in all sorts of places, including both highly artificial gardens created by people, and the fragments of natural environment left behind when developments are built. In a new study that I’ve co-authored with Australian researcher Kit Prendergast we’ve for the first time compared and contrasted the pollinators, and the plants that they visit, in urban settings in the the biodiversity hotspot of Western Australia. Full disclosure: the field work was all done by Kit as part of her PhD. I just acted as an “adopted supervisor” (her words!) to help with data analysis and writing up of the work.
I think that it’s a great study, not least because it really highlights just how different gardens are to remnant natural vegetation. If we are to maintain the maximum possible pollinator diversity, and associated pollination services, we need to retain as much remnant vegetation as possible when designing and building new developments. Gardens alone are not enough.
The abstract is below; if you’d like a PDF of the paper please use the form on the Contact page.
Urbanisation is a prominent and increasing form of land-use change, with the potential to disrupt the interactions between pollinators such as bees and the flowering plants that they visit. This in turn may cause cascading local extinctions and have consequences for pollination services. Network approaches go beyond simple metrics of abundance and species richness, enabling understanding of how the structure of plant-pollinator communities are affected by urbanisation. Here we compared pollination networks between native vegetation (bushland) remnants and residential gardens in the urbanised region of the southwest Australian biodiversity hotspot. Across fourteen sites, seven per habitat, plant-bee visitor networks were created from surveys conducted monthly during the spring-summer period over two years. Extinction slope (a measure of how extinctions cascade through the network), and network robustness and nestedness were higher for bushland remnants, suggesting that networks in bushland remnants had greater functional integrity, but if disrupted, more cascading extinctions could occur. In contrast, niche overlap between pollinators was higher in residential gardens, suggesting greater competition for resources. Most species-level properties did not differ between habitats, except for normalised degree, which was higher in bushland remnants. In conclusion, it appears that pollination networks in managed residential gardens are not structurally equivalent with those in bushland remnants. This has implications for conservation of wild bee assemblages in this biodiversity hotspot, and suggests removal of remnant native vegetation for residential development could disrupt the integrity of plant-pollinator assemblages.
As I write a slow haze of fine snow is falling, covering our garden with a thin white dusting. Spring feels a long way off, despite the emerging spears of daffodil leaves. But you can get a taste of what the new season will bring by signing up for a short series of free evening online talks on the topic of pollinators that has been organised by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust – here’s the link for the Bee Together programme – and here’s more details of the talks:
Thursday January 28 at 7pm: Pollinators and Pollination: Nature and Society An overview of the diversity of pollinators in Britain, why they are important, and the threats to that diversity with Jeff Ollerton.
Thursday February 18 (7pm): The B-Lines Project Buglife’s B-Lines network is an imaginative solution to the problem of the loss of flowers and pollinators. B-Lines are a series of ‘insect pathways’ running through our countryside and towns, along which Buglife are restoring and creating a series of wildflower-rich habitat stepping stones. Catherine Jones talks about mapping the recently completed B-Lines map and some of the projects that have already created habitat for pollinators.
Thursday February 25 (7pm): The Hidden Lives of Garden Bees Brigit Strawbridge Howard will explain some of the basic differences between bumblebees, solitary bees, and honeybees – including lifecycles and nesting behaviour; the problems they all face; and, most important, what we can do to help. Brigit is a wildlife gardener, amateur naturalist and advocate of bees. She writes and campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of native wild bees, and is the author of Dancing with Bees: A Journey Back to Nature.
I hope to see some of you there: Happy New Year everyone!
Although the book has not yet been formally reviewed in any journal or other form of media, I’ve had some very nice (and unsolicited) comments about it via Twitter . Here’s some examples:
This new book is SUPERB. It contains everything I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to grasp, all in one book, AND written in a way I can understand! I cannot tell you how much I’m learning from it already. It makes such a difference to a non-scientist (like me) to be able to grasp the facts, and the science behind the facts, without having to first look up dozens of terms I don’t understand.
Brigit Strawbridge Howard – author of Dancing With Bees
Good to see discussions of ecology, culture and politics together.
I was delighted to receive this superb book over the weekend. It’s an extremely informative read for anyone interested in the subject of pollination!
Looking forward to reading this. I like the tone of what I’ve dipped into so far, really engaging and none of that turgid academic English that gives me a headache!
Steven Falk – author of Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland
As with mine, Karin’s book is available from all of the usual online outlets (I’ve linked to Bookshop just for convenience) and should be in stores at some point in the New Year. In the USA it’s published by Penguin-Random House. It’s a really remarkable book (ok, I’m biased, but it is!) not least because Karin wrote it in less than 6 months and poured her professional and life experience into it. I’m incredibly proud of her 🙂
Here’s a synopsis of the book:
During her 15 years as a therapist, Karin Blak has found that, due to a lack of understanding of what therapy is, people often wait until crisis point to seek help. Even when they are motivated to find professional support, there are psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists; we have so many different types of professionals and approaches to therapy that confusion is inevitable. This book is a definitive guide to understanding talking therapies. It will clarify questions, misunderstandings, myths and grey areas in therapy, compassionately guiding the reader through their journey from beginning to consider therapy, to finding the right therapist, preparing for the first session, surviving common challenges, knowing when to end therapy, and when to return. Karin Blak reveals the rarely considered facts of how therapists work, how they themselves are supervised, how to know if your therapist is overstepping boundaries, the role of a supporting partner, family member or friend, what the jargon really means, how to manage expectations, and when to move on from therapy. Each section contains honest commentary about the process of therapy, case studies showing examples applicable to real life, encouragements to act, practical suggestions and actions to apply if needed.
Yesterday I was delighted to finally receive an advance copy of my book Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society! It’s been over three years in the writing and production, much longer than I had anticipated. But, as I describe in its pages, the book is the culmination of >50 years of experience, study and research. So perhaps three years isn’t so bad…
It was eminent bee biologist Charles Michener who first* pointed out that there was something odd about the global distribution of bees. In his 1979 paper Biogeography of the bees he writes:
“unlike many groups which abound in the tropics, bees attain their greatest abundance in warm temperate areas”
Think about that for a moment: in contrast to most other groups of insects, birds, mammals, flowering plants, fish, indeed the majority of the Earth’s biodiversity, bees are NOT generally at their most species rich in tropical areas. Rather, we have to move north and south of the equator to find them at their highest diversity. This is an odd pattern of distribution for such a successful (> 20,000 species), globally widespread and ecologically important group of organisms.
Some 15 years ago I was inspired by Michener’s comments when, together with colleagues Steve Johnson and Andrew Hingston, we wrote a chapter called Geographical variation in diversity and specificity of pollination systems for the 2006 Waser & Ollerton edited volume Plant-pollinator Interactions: from Specialization to Generalization. In that chapter we presented a rough analysis of how bee diversity per unit area in different countries changes with latitude. This, and a follow-up that appeared in my 2017 Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics paper, confirmed Michener’s view that there’s an unusual relationship between bee diversity and latitude, with peak species richness outside of the tropics, in warm, dry environments.
What I really hoped over this time was that some serious bee biologists would follow up Michener’s insights and produce a full analysis of how bee diversity changes across the planet. Yesterday that hope was realised when Michael Orr, Alice Hughes, Douglas Chesters, John Pickering, Chao-Dong Zhu and John Ascher published the first analysis of bee diversity across the whole planet, and its underlying causes, in their open-access paper Global Patterns and Drivers of Bee Distribution.
Their analyses are based on a data set of >5,800,000 records of where bees occur and it’s been an incredible achievement to bring all of that together into a planet-wide view of where bees are found, and why. I highly recommend that you download and read it, it’s an impressive piece of work.
What have camels got to do with all of this? Well, as the authors show in their paper (from which the image above is taken), if you graph up the increase in bee species richness with latitude from the poles in each hemisphere, you get two humps at about 35 degrees north and south of the equator: like a Bactrian camel. In contrast, as I noted above, if you were to do the same for for most other species you’d get a single hump at the equator: like a dromedary camel.
One of the key drivers of this bimodal pattern seems to be the amount of rainfall in an environment – bees do not like it too wet, in contrast to their relatives the ants which do show the more typical tropical peak in diversity. As the authors put it:
“humidity may play a key role in limiting bee distribution, such as through spoilage of pollen resources”
One of the implications of this for the biogeography of plant-pollinator interactions is that we might expect there to be a greater diversity of different types of pollinators in areas where bees are not so abundant. And indeed that is exactly what we find: in that Ollerton, Johnson and Hingston book chapter I mentioned we showed that there’s a step-change in the diversity of functionally specialised pollination systems as one moves from the sub-tropics into the tropics. There could be many reason for that but I suspect that one is a relative lack of bees compared to the number of plants species; thus you get tropical “oddities” such as specialised cockroach pollination in some plants.
Orr et al.’s paper is a milestone in bee biogeography and opens up new opportunities for conserving these insects, and their vital relationships with the flowering plants. To give just one example: these analyses provide a framework for predicting bee diversity hotspots in parts of the world that have been poorly explored by bee taxonomists, but which are nevertheless severely threatened by habitat degradation and conversion to agriculture. It could also be used for predicting how climate change might affect future bee distributions, especially in parts of the world that are expected to become wetter. I’m looking forward to seeing how the team’s work develops in the future.
*It’s always risky to state “first”, but Michener was certainly the first that I am aware of. Let me know if you’ve come across any precedents.
Running any scientific conference is hard work, and virtual ones are no exception! On Monday I was exhausted after a marathon long weekend of three 10-hour days in front of a computer chairing sessions, queuing up speakers and their talks, and generally making sure things ran as smoothly as possible. Of course before that there were literally weeks of preparation, and since then I have been doing follow up work of responding to emails, sending out certificates and receipts, etc.
It’s been quite a job and I couldn’t have done it with the help of my wife Karin (especially for the loan of her office space in the garden) and also Yannick Klomberg who was working on the website, dealing with the posters, etc., all on top of having a week old baby and his partner to look after! In addition I’m grateful to Paul Egan who ran the SCAPE Twitter account, and the session Chairs, keynote speakers, and participants who contributed to a really amazing conference. Our technical support crew from the University of Northampton were great too.
It was the largest SCAPE meeting so far held, no doubt because it was the first to be carried out virtually, with 352 participants from 41 countries listening to and chatting about 92 talks and viewing 39 posters. We also ran several well-attended evening discussion and poster sessions.
Long-standing SCAPEr Marcos Mendez kept a log of the number of participants in each of the sessions and I’ve graphed the data below, showing the broad themes of each group of sessions:
It’s pleasing to see that attendance was reasonably consistent over the course of the long weekend and that there was interest across the full spectrum of themes. The one downward blip was in session 5, which I can only surmise was due to it being the final session on Friday between 17:25 and 18:25.
As is traditional at SCAPE we announced the host of next year’s meeting at the very end. I’m delighted to announce that SCAPE 2021, the 35th annual meeting, will be held for the first time in Poland, where MarcinZych will be the host. “Wider Scandinavia” just got wider….
There’s still a few hours left in which to register to attend the SCAPE 2020 pollinators and pollination conference. Follow the links on the website: https://scape-pollination.org/
The programme is more or less finalised and is shown below. We have an amazing range of topics being presented from both established and early career researchers, including two keynote lectures, plus posters. It’s going to be a very exciting weekend of science!
K = Keynote
ST = Standard (10 minutes talk + 5 for questions)
F = Flash talk (5 minutes, no questions)
Friday 6th November – all timings are GMT (London) time
Open conference and welcome
Understanding the risks to human well-being from pollinator decline
Time to top up your coffee
Agriculture – 1
10.30 – 10.45
Indirect and additive effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on insect pollination and crop yield of raspberry under different fertilizer levels
10.45 – 11.00
Enhancing mason bee populations for sweet cherry pollination
11.00 – 11.15
Viral distributions in bee communities: associations to honeybee density and flower visitation frequency
11.15 – 11.30
Anna Birgitte Milford
Who takes responsibility for the bees?
11.30 – 11.45
Boundary features increase and stabilise bee populations and the pollination of mass-flowering crops in rotational systems
11.45 – 12.00
Evaluating the quantity and quality of resources for pollinators on Irish farms
Pollinators and human nutrition in rural Nepal: experiences of remote data collection during a global pandemic
Agriculture – 2
12.15 – 12.30
The impact of agri-environment schemes on crop pollination services at national scale
12.30 – 12.45
Plant – pollinator interactions in sub-Saharan agroecosystems
12.45 – 13.00
The combined effects of resource-landscape and herbivory on pollination services in agro-ecosystems
13.00 – 13.15
Márcia Motta Maués
Despite the megadiversity of flower visitors, native bees are essential to açai palm (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) pollination at the Amazon estuary
13.15 – 13.30
Quantifying exposure of bumblebee queens to pesticide residues when hibernating in agricultural soils
Landscapes with high amounts of mass-flowering fruit crops reduce the reproduction of two solitary bees
13.35 – 13.40
Crop domestication, flower characteristics and interaction with pollinators: the case of Cucurbita pepo (Cucurbitaceae)
13.40 – 14.30
Networks and communities
14.30 – 14.45
Plant-pollinator networks in Australian urban bushland remnants are not structurally equivalent to those in residential gardens
14.45 – 14.50
Structure of plant-visitor networks in a seasonal southern Indian habitat
14.50 – 14.55
Asynchrony among insect pollinator groups and flowering plants with elevation
14.55 – 15.10
Rangeland sharing by cattle and bees: moderate grazing does not impair bee communities and resource availability
15.10 – 15.25
Landscape change reduces pollen quality indirectly by shifting the functional composition of pollinator communities
15.25 – 15.40
Quantifying plant-pollinator interactions in the Prairie Coteau
15.40 – 15.55
Conservation perspectives – 1
15.55 – 16.10
Seasonal dynamics of competition between honeybees and wild bees in a protected Mediterranean scrubland
16.10 – 16.25
A One-Health model for reversing honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) decline
16.25 – 16.40
Nectar supply in gardens: spatial and temporal variation
16.40 – 16.55
The effects of environmental toxicants on the health of bumble bees and their microbiomes
16.55 – 17.10
Flagellum removal by a heather nectar metabolite inhibits infectivity of a bumblebee parasite
17.10 – 17.25
Conservation perspectives – 2
17.25 – 17.40
Pollinators on Guernsey and a Pesticide-free Plan
17.40 – 17.55
Reintroducing Carterocephalus palaemon to England: using the legacy of a locally extinct butterfly as a (morpho)metric of future success
17.55 – 18.10
Invasive alien Proteaceae lure some, but not other nectar feeding bird pollinators away from native Proteaceae in South African fynbos
18.10 – 18.25
Sissi Lozada Gobilard
Habitat quality and connectivity in kettle holes enhance bee diversity in agricultural landscapes
18.45 – 23.59
Themed discussion rooms open
Saturday 7th November – all timings are GMT (London) time
08.55 – 09.00
Reminders and announcements
Conservation perspectives – 3
09.00 – 09.15
The effects of landscape composition and climatic variables on pollinator abundances and foraging along a gradient of increasing urbanization
09.15 – 09.30
Potential impacts of pollinator declines on plant seed production and population viability
09.30 – 09.45
Moth assemblages within urban domestic gardens respond positively to habitat complexity, but only at a scale that extends beyond the garden boundary
09.45 – 10.00
Novel pesticide class impact foraging behaviour in wild bees
10.00 – 10.15
Time to top up your coffee
Conservation perspectives – 4
10.15 – 10.20
The impacts of invasive Acacias on the pollination networks of South African Fynbos habitats
10.20 – 10.25
Global effects of land-use intensity on local pollinator biodiversity
10.25 – 10.30
How does land-use affect the mutualistic outcomes of bee-plant interactions?
10.30 – 10.35
Impact of wet meadow translocation on species composition of bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Apiformes)
10.35 – 10.40
May urbanization affect the quality of pollinators diet? A case-study from Milan, Italy.
10.40 – 10.45
Functional traits variation in two bumblebee species along a gradient of landscape anthropization
10.45 – 11.00
Pollinator behaviour – 1
11.00 – 11.15
Foraging on left-overs: comparative resource use in diurnal and nocturnal bees
11.15 – 11.30
To leave or to stay? Answers from migratory waggle dances in Apis dorsata
11.30 – 11.45
Decision making in the Asian honeybee Apis cerana is influenced by innate sensory biases and associative learning at different spatial scales
11.45 – 12.00
Resource intake of stingless bee colonies in a tropical ecosystem in Ecuador
12.00 – 12.15
Pollen analysis using deep learning – better, stronger, faster
12.15 – 13.00
Pollinator behaviour – 2
13.00 – 13.15
‘Interviewing’ pollinators in the red clover field: foraging behaviour
13.15 – 13.30
How to eat in the shade? Bumblebees’ behavior in partially shaded flower strips
13.30 – 13.45
Megachile sculpturalis: insights on the nesting activity of an alien bee species
13.45 – 14.00
The allometry of sensory system in the butterfly Pieris napi
14.00 – 14.05
New insights into the visual ecology of bees
14.05 – 14.10
Does pollinator dependence correlate with the nutritional profile of pollen in plants?
14.10 – 14.15
Floral signals involved in host finding by nectar-foraging social wasps
14.15 – 14.30
Chair: Amy Parachnowitsch
14.30 – 14.45
Does the rarity of a flower´s scent phenotype in a deceptive orchid explain its pollination success?
14.45 – 15.00
Ecology and evolution of floral scent compartmentalization
15.00 – 15.15
Manoj Kaushalya Rathnayake
Does floral scent changes with pollinator syndrome?
15.15 – 15.20
The chemical landscape of Arabis alpina
15.20 – 15.25
Laura S. Hildesheim
Patterns of floral scent composition in species providing resin pollinator rewards
15.25 – 15.30
Does Myrmecophila thomsoniana (Orchidaceae) use uncoupled mimicry to obtain pollination?
15.30 – 15.45
Pollination ecology and floral evolution – 1
15.45 – 16.00
Adaptive plasticity of floral display and its limits
16.00 – 16.15
Individual flowering schedules and floral display size in monkeyflower: a common garden study
16.15 – 16.30
Specialization for tachinid fly pollination and the evolutionary divergence between varieties of the orchid Neotinea ustulata
16.30 – 16.45
Different points of view in a changing world: The tobacco tree flowers through the eyes of its pollinators in native and non-native ranges
16.45 – 17.00
17.00 – 18.00
Poster discussion rooms open
A chance to talk with the author of the posters
18.00 – 23.59
Themed discussion rooms open
Sunday 8th November – all timings are GMT (London) time
08.55 – 09.00
Reminders and announcements
09.00 – 10.00
Pollination accuracy explains the evolution of floral movements
10.00 – 10.15
Time to top up your coffee
Pollination ecology and floral evolution – 2
10.15 – 10.30
Three options are better than two: complementary nature of different pollination modes in Salix caprea