The global diversity of our gardens is playing a key role in the fight to save bumblebees

The most common species of bumblebee are not fussy about a plant’s origin when searching for nectar and pollen among the nation’s urban gardens according to a study by ecologists at Plymouth University.

But other species – in particular long-tongued bees – do concentrate their feeding upon plants from the UK and Europe, for which they have developed a preference evolved over many millennia.

Dr Mick Hanley, Lecturer in Ecology at Plymouth University, said the study showed the continued importance of promoting diversity and encouraging gardeners to cast their net wide when choosing what to cultivate.

“Urban gardens are increasingly recognised for their potential to maintain or even enhance biodiversity,” Dr Hanley said. “In particular, the presence of large densities and varieties of flowering plants supports a number of pollinating insects whose range and abundance has declined as a consequence of agricultural intensification and habitat loss. By growing a variety of plants from around the world, gardeners ensure that a range of food sources is available for many different pollinators. But until now we have had very little idea about how the origins of garden plants actually affect their use by our native pollinators.”

The findings of this study were backed up by preliminary results from the Royal Horticultural Society's Plants for Bugs research project.

The four-year study is the first field research project designed to find out if native or non-native garden plants are best at supporting wildlife – with the term ‘native plants’ referring to those species which arrived in Britain after the ice age without the assistance of humans.

At a conference held by the RHS and Wildlife Gardening Forum this week scientists said provisional analysis of the data indicated that all garden plant combinations (native and non-native) support abundant and diverse invertebrate wildlife.

However RHS entomologist Andrew Salisbury said analysis was at a very early stage and the data needed to be investigated in greater detail before firm conclusions and advice could be provided to wildlife gardeners.

Read more about the Plymouth University study

Click here for more advice on gardening for bees. 

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