Tag Archives: Science

Finally, a physical copy of my book!

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…

If you’re interested in buying a copy you can order it direct from Pelagic Publishing and from most of the large online booksellers. Let me know what you think.

SCAPE 2020 by the numbers

Last Friday to Sunday I hosted the annual Scandinavian Association for Pollination Ecology (SCAPE) conference virtually. This is my first opportunity to report back as I took some time off and then tried to catch up with other tasks.

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 Marcin Zych will be the host. “Wider Scandinavia” just got wider….

SCAPE 2020 – pollinators & pollination conference: here’s the programme

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!


Talk types:

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

09.00 –09.15 Jeff OllertonOpen conference and welcome 
09.15 –10.15KLynn DicksUnderstanding the risks to human well-being from pollinator declineK.01
10.15 –10.30 Comfort breakTime to top up your coffee 
Session 1 Chair: Jeff OllertonAgriculture – 1 
10.30 – 10.45STKe ChenIndirect and additive effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on insect pollination and crop yield of raspberry under different fertilizer levels1.01
10.45 – 11.00STJulia OstermanEnhancing mason bee populations for sweet cherry pollination1.02
11.00 – 11.15STIdan KahnonitchViral distributions in bee communities: associations to honeybee density and flower visitation frequency1.03
11.15 – 11.30STAnna Birgitte MilfordWho takes responsibility for the bees?1.04
11.30 – 11.45STEmma GardnerBoundary features increase and stabilise bee populations and the pollination of mass-flowering crops in rotational systems1.05
11.45 – 12.00STStephanie MaherEvaluating the quantity and quality of resources for pollinators on Irish farms1.06
12.00 –12.05FThomas TimberlakePollinators and human nutrition in rural Nepal: experiences of remote data collection during a global pandemic1.07
12.05 –12.15 Comfort break  
Session 2 Chair: Jane StoutAgriculture – 2 
12.15 – 12.30STMichael ImageThe impact of agri-environment schemes on crop pollination services at national scale2.01
12.30 – 12.45STNicola TommasiPlant – pollinator interactions in sub-Saharan agroecosystems2.02
12.45 – 13.00STTal ShapiraThe combined effects of resource-landscape and herbivory on pollination services in agro-ecosystems2.03
13.00 – 13.15STMárcia Motta MauésDespite the megadiversity of flower visitors, native bees are essential to açai palm (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) pollination at the Amazon estuary2.04
13.15 – 13.30 STSabrina RondeauQuantifying exposure of bumblebee queens to pesticide residues when hibernating in agricultural soils2.05
13.30 –13.35 FMaxime EeraertsLandscapes with high amounts of mass-flowering fruit crops reduce the reproduction of two solitary bees2.06
13.35 – 13.40FPatricia Nunes-SilvaCrop domestication, flower characteristics and interaction with pollinators: the case of Cucurbita pepo (Cucurbitaceae)2.07
13.40 – 14.30 Lunch break  
Session 3 Chair: Mariano DevotoNetworks and communities 
14.30 – 14.45STKit PrendergastPlant-pollinator networks in Australian urban bushland remnants are not structurally equivalent to those in residential gardens3.01
14.45 – 14.50FKavya MohanStructure of plant-visitor networks in a seasonal southern Indian habitat3.02
14.50 – 14.55FOpeyemi AdedojaAsynchrony among insect pollinator groups and flowering plants with elevation3.03
14.55 – 15.10STYael MandelikRangeland sharing by cattle and bees: moderate grazing does not impair bee communities and resource availability3.04
15.10 – 15.25STFelipe Torres-VanegasLandscape change reduces pollen quality indirectly by shifting the functional composition of pollinator communities3.05
15.25 – 15.40STIsabela Vilella-ArnizautQuantifying plant-pollinator interactions in the Prairie Coteau3.06
15.40 – 15.55 Comfort break  
Session 4 Chair: Nina SletvoldConservation perspectives – 1 
15.55 – 16.10STLise RoparsSeasonal dynamics of competition between honeybees and wild bees in a protected Mediterranean scrubland4.01
16.10 – 16.25STPhilip DonkersleyA One-Health model for reversing honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) decline4.02
16.25 – 16.40STNicholas TewNectar supply in gardens: spatial and temporal variation4.03
16.40 – 16.55STPeter GraystockThe effects of environmental toxicants on the health of bumble bees and their microbiomes4.04
16.55 – 17.10STHauke KochFlagellum removal by a heather nectar metabolite inhibits infectivity of a bumblebee parasite4.05
17.10 – 17.25 Comfort break  
Session 5 Chair: Anders NielsenConservation perspectives – 2 
17.25 – 17.40STMiranda BanePollinators on Guernsey and a Pesticide-free Plan5.01
17.40 – 17.55STJamie WildmanReintroducing Carterocephalus palaemon to England: using the legacy of a locally extinct butterfly as a (morpho)metric of future success5.02
17.55 – 18.10STSjirk GeertsInvasive alien Proteaceae lure some, but not other nectar feeding bird pollinators away from native Proteaceae in South African fynbos5.03
18.10 – 18.25STSissi Lozada GobilardHabitat quality and connectivity in kettle holes enhance bee diversity in agricultural landscapes5.04
18.25 –18.45 Comfort break  
18.45 – 23.59 Themed discussion rooms open  

Saturday 7th November – all timings are GMT (London) time

08.55 – 09.00 Jeff OllertonReminders and announcements 
Session 6 Chair: Jeff OllertonConservation perspectives – 3 
09.00 – 09.15STPaolo BiellaThe effects of landscape composition and climatic variables on pollinator abundances and foraging along a gradient of increasing urbanization6.01
09.15 – 09.30STJames RodgerPotential impacts of pollinator declines on plant seed production and population viability6.02
09.30 – 09.45STEmilie EllisMoth assemblages within urban domestic gardens respond positively to habitat complexity, but only at a scale that extends beyond the garden boundary6.03
09.45 – 10.00STSamuel BoffNovel pesticide class impact foraging behaviour in wild bees6.04
10.00 – 10.15 Comfort breakTime to top up your coffee 
Session 7 Chair: Jon AgrenConservation perspectives – 4 
10.15 – 10.20FMaisie BrettThe impacts of invasive Acacias on the pollination networks of South African Fynbos habitats7.01
10.20 – 10.25FJoseph MillardGlobal effects of land-use intensity on local pollinator biodiversity7.02
10.25 – 10.30FSusanne ButschkauHow does land-use affect the mutualistic outcomes of bee-plant interactions?7.03
10.30 – 10.35FElżbieta Rożej-PabijanImpact of wet meadow translocation on species composition of bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Apiformes)7.04
10.35 – 10.40FLorenzo GuzzettiMay urbanization affect the quality of pollinators diet? A case-study from Milan, Italy.7.05
10.40 – 10.45FEmiliano PioltelliFunctional traits variation in two bumblebee species along a gradient of landscape anthropization7.06
10.45 – 11.00 Comfort break  
Session 8 Chair: Marcos MendezPollinator behaviour – 1 
11.00 – 11.15STHema SomanathanForaging on left-overs: comparative resource use in diurnal and nocturnal bees8.01
11.15 – 11.30STSajesh VijayanTo leave or to stay? Answers from migratory waggle dances in Apis dorsata8.02
11.30 – 11.45STBalamurali MGSDecision making in the Asian honeybee Apis cerana is influenced by innate sensory biases and associative learning at different spatial scales8.03
11.45 – 12.00STGemma VillagomezResource intake of stingless bee colonies in a tropical ecosystem in Ecuador8.04
12.00 – 12.15STOla OlssonPollen analysis   using deep learning – better, stronger, faster8.05
12.15 – 13.00 Lunch break  
Session 9 Chair: Magne FribergPollinator behaviour – 2 
13.00 – 13.15STShuxuan Jing‘Interviewing’ pollinators in the red clover field: foraging behaviour9.01
13.15 – 13.30STOcéane BartholoméeHow to eat in the shade? Bumblebees’ behavior in partially shaded flower strips9.02
13.30 – 13.45STManuela GiovanettiMegachile sculpturalis: insights on the nesting activity of an alien bee species9.03
13.45 – 14.00    STZahra MoradinourThe allometry of sensory system in the butterfly Pieris napi9.04
14.00 – 14.05FPierre TichitNew insights into the visual ecology of bees9.05
14.05 – 14.10FFabian RuedenauerDoes pollinator dependence correlate with the nutritional profile of pollen in plants?9.06
14.10 – 14.15FHannah BurgerFloral signals involved in host finding by nectar-foraging social wasps9.07
14.15 – 14.30 Comfort break  
Session 10 Chair: ‪ Amy ParachnowitschFloral scent 
14.30 – 14.45STHerbert BraunschmidDoes the rarity of a flower´s scent phenotype in a deceptive orchid explain its pollination success?10.01
14.45 – 15.00STYedra GarcíaEcology and evolution of floral scent compartmentalization10.02
15.00 – 15.15STManoj Kaushalya RathnayakeDoes floral scent changes with pollinator syndrome?10.03
15.15 – 15.20FHanna ThostemanThe chemical landscape of Arabis alpina10.04
15.20 – 15.25FLaura S. HildesheimPatterns of floral scent composition in species providing resin pollinator rewards10.05
15.25 – 15.30FChristine Rose-SmythDoes Myrmecophila thomsoniana (Orchidaceae) use uncoupled mimicry to obtain pollination? 10.06
15.30 – 15.45 Comfort break  
Session 11 Chair: Renate WesselinghPollination ecology and floral evolution – 1 
15.45 – 16.00STRachel SpiglerAdaptive plasticity of floral display and its limits11.01
16.00 – 16.15STWendy SemskiIndividual flowering schedules and floral display size in monkeyflower: a common garden study11.02
16.15 – 16.30STCarlos MartelSpecialization for tachinid fly pollination and the evolutionary divergence between varieties of the orchid Neotinea ustulata11.03
16.30 – 16.45STMarcela Moré  Different points of view in a changing world: The tobacco tree flowers through the eyes of its pollinators in native and non-native ranges11.05
16.45 – 17.00 Comfort break  
17.00 – 18.00 Poster discussion rooms openA 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  Jeff OllertonReminders and announcements 
09.00 – 10.00KScott ArmbrusterPollination accuracy explains the evolution of floral movementsK.02
10.00 – 10.15 Comfort breakTime to top up your coffee 
Session 12 Chair: Jeff OllertonPollination ecology and floral evolution – 2 
10.15 – 10.30STKazuharu OhashiThree options are better than two: complementary nature of different pollination modes in Salix caprea12.01
10.30 – 10.45STJames CookWhy size matters in fig-pollinator mutualisms12.02
10.45 – 11.00STYuval SapirWithin-population flower colour variation: beyond pollinator-mediated selection12.03
11.00 – 11.15STHenninge Torp BieFlower visitation of the Sticky catchfly (Viscaria vulgaris) on isles within isle.12.04
11.15 – 11.20    
11.20 – 11.30 Comfort break  
Session 13 Chair: Yuval SapirPollination ecology and floral evolution – 3 
11.30 – 11.45STJonas KupplerImpacts of drought on floral traits, plant-pollinator interactions and plant reproductive success – a meta-analysis13.01
11.45 – 12.00STCarmen Villacañas de CastroCost/benefit ratio of a nursery pollination system in natural populations: a model application13.02
12.00 – 12.15STAnna E-VojtkóFloral and reproductive plant functional traits as an independent axis of plant ecological strategies13.03
12.15 – 12.30STCamille CornetRole of pollinators in prezygotic isolation between calcicolous and silicicolous ecotypes of Silene nutans13.04
12.30 – 12.45STCourtney GormanPhenological and pollinator-mediated isolation among selfing and outcrossing Arabidopsis lyrata populations13.05
12.45 – 13.45 Lunch break  
Session 14 Chair: Rocio BarralesPollination ecology and floral evolution – 4 
13.45 – 14.00STDanae LainaGeographic differences in pollinator availability in the habitats shape the degree of pollinator specialization in the deceptive Arum maculatum L. (Araceae)14.01
14.00 – 14.15  STEva GfrererIs the inflorescence scent of Arum maculatum L. (Araceae) in populations north vs. south of the Alps locally adapted to a variable pollinator climate?14.02
14.15 – 14.30STKelsey ByersPollinators and visitors to Gymnadenia orchids: historical and modern data reveal associations between insect proboscis and floral nectar spur length14.03
14.30 – 14.45STNina JirgalOrientation matters: effect of floral symmetry and orientation on pollinator entry angle14.04
14.45 – 15.00STAlice FairnieUnderstanding the development, evolution and function of the bullseye pigmentation pattern in Hibiscus trionum14.05
15.00 – 15.15 Comfort break  
Session 15 Chair: Maria Clara CastellanosPollination ecology and floral evolution – 5 
15.15 – 15.30STJon ÅgrenOn the measurement and meaning of pollinator-mediated selection15.01
15.30 – 15.45STKatarzyna RoguzPlants taking charge: Autonomous self-pollination as response to plants-pollinator mismatch in Fritillaria persica15.02
15.45 – 16.00STMario Vallejo-MarinBees vs flies: Comparison of non-flight vibrations and  implications for buzz pollination15.03
16.00 – 16.15STAgnes DellingerLinking flower morphology to pollen-release dynamics: buzz-pollination in Melastomataceae15.04
16.15 – 16.30STLucy NevardAre bees and flowers tuned to each other? Variation in the natural frequency of buzz-pollinated flowers.15.05
16.30 – 16.35 FGabriel Chagas LanesAn investigation of pollen movement and release by poricidal anthers using mathematical billiards15.06
16.35 – 16.40FRebecca HoeferThe magnitude of water stress and high soil nitrogen decreases plants reproductive success15.07
16.40 – 16.45FMarta BarberisMay ecotonal plants attract less efficient pollinators to stay on the safe side?15.08
16.45 – 17.00 Comfort break  
Session 16 Chair: Jeff OllertonPollination ecology and floral evolution – 6 
17.00 – 17.15STGabriela DoriaPetal cell shape and flower-pollinator interaction in Nicotiana16.01
17.15 – 17.30STNathan MuchhalaThe long stems characteristic of bat-pollinated flowers greatly reduce bat search times while foraging16.02
17.30 – 17.35FJuan Isaac Moreira-HernándezDifferential tolerance to heterospecific pollen deposition in sympatric species of bat-pollinated Burmeistera (Campanulaceae: Lobelioideae)16.03
17.35 – 17.40FJuan José Domínguez-DelgadoDoes autopolyploidy contribute to shape plant-pollinator interactions?16.04
17.40 – 17.45FCaio Simões BallarinHow many animal-pollinated plants are nectar-producing?16.05
17.45 – 17.50FAna Clara IbañezConcerted evolution between flower phenotype and pollinators in Salpichroa (Solanaceae)16.06
17.50 – 18.15 Jeff OllertonPrize announcements, conference handover and close.16.07

Just published: An empirical attack tolerance test alters the structure and species richness of plant–pollinator networks

The latest paper from Paolo Biella‘s PhD work, on which I collaborated and that I’ve discussed before on the blog, has just been published in the journal Functional Ecology. It’s entitled “An empirical attack tolerance test alters the structure and species richness of plant–pollinator networks“. The paper presents more of Paolo’s work showing how the experimental removal of the floral resources provided by the more generalised plants in a community can significantly (and negatively) affect the patterns of interaction between flowers and pollinators that we observe. It’s another piece of evidence that demonstrates how important it is to not neglect the common plants that attract a lot of flower visitors when considering how to manage a habitat.

If anyone has trouble accessing the PDF, drop me a line and I will send it to you.

Here’s the reference:

Biella, P., Akter, A., Ollerton, J., Nielsen, A. & Klecka, J. (2020) An empirical attack tolerance test alters the structure and species richness of plant-pollinator networks. Functional Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.13642

Here’s the abstract:

Ecological network theory hypothesizes that the structuring of species interactions can convey stability to the system. Investigating how these structures react to species loss is fundamental for understanding network disassembly or their robustness. However, this topic has mainly been studied in‐silico so far.

Here, in an experimental manipulation, we sequentially removed four generalist plants from real plant–pollinator networks. We explored the effects on, and drivers of, species and interaction disappearance, network structure and interaction rewiring. First, we compared both the local extinctions of species and interactions and the observed network indices with those expected from three co‐extinction models. Second, we investigated the trends in network indices and rewiring rate after plant removal and the pollinator tendency at establishing novel links in relation to their proportional visitation to the removed plants. Furthermore, we explored the underlying drivers of network assembly with probability matrices based on ecological traits.

Our results indicate that the cumulative local extinctions of species and interactions increased faster with generalist plant loss than what was expected by co‐extinction models, which predicted the survival or disappearance of many species incorrectly, and the observed network indices were lowly correlated to those predicted by co‐extinction models. Furthermore, the real networks reacted in complex ways to plant removal. First, network nestedness decreased and modularity increased. Second, although species abundance was a main assembly rule, opportunistic random interactions and structural unpredictability emerged as plants were removed. Both these reactions could indicate network instability and fragility. Other results showed network reorganization, as rewiring rate was high and asymmetries between network levels emerged as plants increased their centrality. Moreover, the generalist pollinators that had frequently visited both the plants targeted of removal and the non‐target plants tended to establish novel links more than who either had only visited the removal plants or avoided to do so.

With the experimental manipulation of real networks, our study shows that despite their reorganizational ability, plant–pollinator networks changed towards a more fragile state when generalist plants are lost.

The chapter titles for my book: Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society

A few people have asked me about what’s covered in my book which is being published by Pelagic and is currently in production. Here’s the chapter titles:


1         The importance of pollinators and pollination                               

2         More than just bees: the diversity of pollinators                           

3         To be a flower                                                                                               

4         Fidelity and promiscuity in Darwin’s entangled bank                 

5         The evolution of pollination strategies                                              

6         A matter of time: from daily cycles to climate change                 

7         Agricultural perspectives                                                                        

8         Urban environments                                                                                  

9         The significance of gardens                                                                    

10      The shifting fates of pollinators                                                            

11      New bees on the block                                                                              

12      Managing, restoring and connecting habitats                                 

13      The politics of pollination                                                                        

14      Studying pollinators and pollination                                                  

As you can see it’s a very wide-ranging overview of the subject, and written to be accessible to both specialists and non-specialists alike. To quote what I wrote in the Preface:

“While the book is aimed at a very broad audience, and is intended to be comprehensible to anyone with an interest in science and the environment, and their intersection with human societies, I hope it will also be of interest to those dealing professionally with plants and pollinators. The subject is vast, and those working on bee or hoverfly biology, for example, or plant reproductive ecology, may learn something new about topics adjacent to their specialisms. I certainly learned a lot from writing the book.”

The book is about 100,000 words in length, lots of illustrations, and there will be an index. My copy editor reckons there’s 450 references cited, though I haven’t counted. I do know that they run to 28 pages in the manuscript, and that’s with 11pt text. All going well it will be published before Christmas.

SCAPE gets a new website and registration for the 2020 conference is now open


The Scandinavian Association for Pollination Ecology (SCAPE) now has a dedicated website:  https://scape-pollination.org/

The site includes some history of the conference and links to old programmes and abstract booklets, and we will use this for all future conference announcements.  SCAPE2020 will be online and registration to give a talk or just attend is now open.  If you’re tweeting about it please use the hashtag #SCAPE2020

My thanks to Yannick Klomberg for developing and maintaining the website.

Animal deaths in the Australian bushfires even greater than first feared – and what about the plants?

2019-12-27 15.07.16

Earlier this year I reported on the unprecedented Australian bushfires with some reflections of what I was observing during my time as a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of New South Wales – see: How are the Australian bushfires affecting biodiversity? Australia reflections part 4.   Karin also wrote a piece about the fires, focusing on the human impacts – see: Climate Change Stories From a Nation on Fire.

At the time scientists and the media were suggesting that perhaps half a billion reptiles, mammals and birds had been killed, a figure that provoked a strong public reaction when accompanied by images of fire-scorched koalas.  This was then revised upwards to 1 billion. But it turns out that even a billion is nowhere close to the real number of animal deaths.  A new interim report commissioned by WWF-Australia suggests that just under 3 billion animals were either directly killed or displaced.  Those which were displaced were vulnerable to feral predators such as foxes and cats, or more likely to succumb to starvation. An article in The Guardian about the WWF-Australia report is worth reading – here’s the link.

The actual figure is 2.69 billion individual animals.  Think about that for a moment.  That’s about equivalent the number of people living in India and China combined.  This is the breakdown for the different animal groups that were assessed:

● 143 million mammals
● 2.46 billion reptiles
● 180 million birds
● 51 million frogs

One thing should be immediately apparent: this is not a complete list of the “animals” that have been killed.  A lack of data means that fish, turtles and (crucially) invertebrates such as spiders, bees, beetles, and earthworms, were excluded.  Those invertebrates live at much higher densities than any of the animal groups that were assessed and indeed are the sole or principle food for many of those species.  The number of insects required to support just the insectivorous birds is staggering: globally, birds are estimated to eat 400-500 million tonnes of insects and other arthropods every year.

Even if we were to consider just the larger invertebrates, those bigger than say 0.5 cm in length (which are a minority – most are considerably smaller), then then the true scale of the animal deaths is going to be one or two orders of magnitude higher.  Or possibly more.  Thirty billion, 300 billion, 3 trillion…?  Who knows?  It’s impossible to estimate, we just don’t have enough information about those organisms.

The other major component of wildlife that is missing from the report is the plants.  I know that studies of plant mortality are being undertaken at the moment and it will be important that this is given the same level of publicity as the assessments of animals.

Writing in the foreword of the report, Dermot O’Gorman the CEO of WWF-Australia pointed out that: “It’s hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals. This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history”.

I disagree.  I think it’s THE worst wildlife disaster in terms of the scale of animal losses over such a short period of time.  No doubt deforestation and destruction of grasslands in South America, Asia and Africa has killed more animals and plants.  But that’s over a timescale of decades to hundreds of years.  Australian wildlife was devastated in a matter of months. And no one knows exactly what the 2020-21 fire season will bring.  But I think that we can safely predict further impacts on wildlife – and people.


A simple online ecosystem model: like Tamagotchi for the green generation

Orb farm

Recently I came across an online game based on a simple cellular automaton model called orb.farm in which you have to design an enclosed ecosystem that supports plant, animal and bacterial life.  It’s a little bit addictive and a lot of fun! Reminds me of a more sophisticated form of the Tamagotchi, but without the ridiculous waste of plastic, metal and electronics that inevitably comes with these kids’ crazes.

When I tweeted about this earlier in the week the most excitement was generated by some scientists who actually work in lake ecosystem ecology.  They were very impressed!  The occasional Easter Eggs that appear also keep you hooked.  Helpfully, you can also close down your browser or computer and your ecosystem is still there when you open it up again.

Orb.farm is by Max Bittker and I hope that he develops it further.  I can see it being used for some serious experiments as well as being educational and fun.

Get a 30% discount if you pre-order my new book Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society


In the next few months my new book Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society will be published.  As you can imagine, I’m very excited! The book is currently available to pre-order: you can find full details here at the Pelagic Publishing website.  If you do pre-order it you can claim a 30% discount by using the pre-publication offer code POLLINATOR.

As with my blog, the book is aimed at a very broad audience including the interested public, gardeners, conservationists, and scientists working in the various sub-fields of pollinator and pollination research. The chapter titles are as follows:

Preface and Acknowledgements
1. The importance of pollinators and pollination
2. More than just bees: the diversity of pollinators
3. To be a flower
4. Fidelity and promiscuity in Darwin’s entangled bank
5. The evolution of pollination strategies
6. A matter of time: from daily cycles to climate change
7. Agricultural perspectives
8. Urban environments
9. The significance of gardens
10. Shifting fates of pollinators
11. New bees on the block
12. Managing, restoring and connecting habitats
13. The politics of pollination
14. Studying pollinators and pollination



The evolution of insect pollination: a new essay just published

Science MagazineIn the latest issue of the journal Science you’ll find a commentary essay entitled: “The origins of flowering plants and pollinators“, written by Casper van der Kooi and myself.  It’s open access so do go and read it.

This commentary brings together some  recent findings in palaeontology, molecular phylogenetics, and pollinator sensory physiology and behaviour, to discuss the progress that’s been made in understanding the deep-time evolution of this most familiar and charismatic of ecological interactions.

The short version is that the old conceptual models are absolutely wrong.  Some version of “first came the gymnosperms and they were primitive and unsuccessful because they were wind pollinated.  Then, at the start of the Cretaceous, the angiosperms evolved and they were insect pollinated and advanced and so more successful” continues to appear in text books.  But we’ve known for a long time that many of the Jurassic gymnosperms were insect pollinated.  This may (or may not) predate insect pollination of angiosperms: there are huge disagreements between palaeobotanists and molecular phylogeneticists about when the first flowering plants evolved.  The graphic above comes from our essay and shows just how big the discrepancy is: molecular models suggest an origin for the angiosperms about 70 million years prior to the first confirmed fossils.  That’s about equivalent to the whole of the Jurassic period!  There are similar disagreements when it comes to the evolution of pollinating insects: for the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) the difference between the earlier molecular and later fossil evidence may be as much as 100 million years.

As we discuss, there are huge implications in these discrepancies for understanding not just how major elements within the Earth’s biodiversity evolved, but also for the origins of pollinator sensory physiology.  Insect behaviours linked to colour vision and odour reception may in turn influence effective crop and wild plant pollination.

The image accompanying our essay is by the very talented biologist, science communicator and graphic designer Elzemiek Zinkstok – follow that link and check out her work.