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Study: Moths are more efficient pollinators than bees

In a groundbreaking study conducted by the University of Sussex, moths have been found to be more efficient pollinators at night than day-flying pollinators like bees. This research comes at a time when there is growing concern about the decline of wild pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies, which are vital for maintaining healthy ecosystems.

During July 2021, researchers studied 10 sites in southeast England, focusing on the pollination of bramble flowers. They discovered that 83 percent of insect visits to the flowers occurred during the day. 

However, despite the fact that moths made fewer visits during the shorter summer nights, accounting for only 15 percent of the visits, they were able to pollinate the flowers more quickly. This led the researchers to conclude that moths are more efficient pollinators than day-flying insects, including bees.

“Bees are undoubtedly important, but our work has shown that moths pollinate flowers at a faster rate than day-flying insects,” said study co-author Professor Fiona Mathews. “Sadly, many moths are in serious decline in Britain, affecting not just pollination but also food supplies for many other species ranging from bats to birds.”

The study not only highlights the importance of moths as pollinators but also the significance of bramble, a shrub often considered unfavorable and regularly cleared away. In reality, bramble is crucial for nocturnal pollinators. 

The researchers used camera traps to monitor the numbers of insects visiting flowers and conducted experiments to determine how quickly pollen was deposited at different times of the day.

Dr. Max Anderson, who was a PhD student at the University of Sussex at the time of the research and is now at the Butterfly Conservation, emphasized the need for further research and support for moths. “Moths are important pollinators, and they are greatly under-appreciated and under-studied,” he said. “Now we know that moths are also important pollinators, we need to take action to support them by encouraging some bramble and other flowering scrub plants to grow in our parks, gardens, road verges, and hedgerows.”

Pollinating insects are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems and supporting agricultural systems. They play a vital role in the reproduction of many plants, which in turn impacts a wide range of ecological processes. Some of the reasons why pollinating insects are so important include:

  1. Plant reproduction: Pollination is the process by which plants transfer pollen from the male reproductive structures (anthers) to the female reproductive structures (stigmas) of the same or different flowers. This transfer, often facilitated by pollinating insects, is a necessary step for fertilization and the production of seeds and fruits. Without pollination, many plants would be unable to reproduce, which would have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems and food production.
  2. Food production: Pollinating insects are essential for the production of many of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that make up a significant portion of the human diet. It is estimated that around one-third of the food we consume relies on pollination by insects. Without these pollinators, our food systems would be severely impacted, leading to reduced crop yields and potential food shortages.
  3. Biodiversity: Pollinating insects help maintain and promote biodiversity by facilitating plant reproduction. A diverse range of plant species supports a variety of other organisms, including birds, mammals, and other insects. This leads to more stable and resilient ecosystems that can better withstand environmental changes and disturbances.
  4. Ecosystem services: The work of pollinating insects supports various ecosystem services, such as soil formation, water purification, and climate regulation. These services are essential for the overall health of our planet and contribute to human well-being.
  5. Habitat provision: By supporting the growth and reproduction of various plant species, pollinating insects help create habitats for other organisms. These habitats provide shelter, food, and breeding grounds for a wide range of species, supporting the intricate web of life within ecosystems.

In summary, pollinating insects are essential for the health of ecosystems, agricultural systems, and human well-being. Their role in facilitating plant reproduction, food production, and the maintenance of biodiversity makes them crucial for the survival and functioning of ecosystems worldwide. Protecting pollinator populations is, therefore, of utmost importance for ensuring the long-term health of our planet and the continued availability of the resources we rely on.

This research underscores the importance of protecting both night-flying and day-flying pollinators to allow natural ecosystems to thrive. To that end, researchers are calling on the public to help protect moths by planting white flowers, cultivating patches of scrub and rough grass, and turning off night lights. By doing so, we can promote a healthier and more diverse environment for all species that depend on these crucial pollinators.

The research is published in the journal PLoS ONE.


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