Bees are among the most successful pollinators according to researchers at the University of Bristol.
The scientists measured insect visits and pollen deposition to all flower species on a heathland in Dorset and discovered that bumblebees are not only the main flower visitors but also the most successful potential pollinators.
Dr Katherine Baldock of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences said: “This study represents an important step forward in how we understand the relationships among plants and their pollinators. Including information on the pollinating efficiency of animals that visit flowers in network studies will lead to a greater understanding of how these complex communities are structured and which species are important pollinators of crops and wild flowers.”
In the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team investigated pollen deposition onto stigmas of flowers of the five most common plant species found in the Dorset heathland. This allowed them to develop pollinator importance networks which revealed that among the top-performers are bumblebees, honey bees and solitary bees.
“Understanding how pollinator importance networks, like those we studied on Dorset heathland, are structured is crucial to understanding community interactions and thus how to restore and conserve pollination services in the face of pollinator decline,” said research leader Dr Gavin Ballantyne.
The researchers also found that although bees deposited the greatest mean quantities of pollen grains, deposition rates were highly variable and many visitor groups had an important role.
“Vital crops such as oilseed rape, apples and strawberries, as well as thousands of wild plants, all require pollination by a wide range of animal pollinators which can be visualised as a network of interacting species. However, the structure and stability of these wider networks are not fully understood and the plant and insect species involved may often be under threat,” said Dr Ballantyne.