New online resource can help users ‘bee’

image: A bumblebee on wild clary
vision Lake

Credit: Marta Rossic

An online database developed at the University of Sussex documenting interactions between pollinators and plants could help the public understand how to plant for pollinators and support biodiversity.

Remarkably little is known about the flower preferences of many pollinator species, or which insects pollinate which flower species and how these interactions change over time and space.

To address this knowledge gap, Sussex researchers have created one of the world’s first online, open access, pollinator-plant interaction databases. The dataset currently contains more than 300,000 interactions and unites disparate publications and datasets from the scientific literature and monitoring groups. These include records of nearly 2,000 species of pollinators and more than 1,000 plant species.

Dubbed ‘The Database of Pollinator Interactions’ or ‘DoPI’, it was built by Dr Nicholas Balfour, Dr Maria Clara Castellanos, Prof Dave Goulson, Prof Andrew Philippides and Dr Chris Johnson, with financial support from the British Beekeepers Association and the Eva Crane Trust. A new article, published in the magazine Ecology, describes the database and how it works.

dr. Nicholas Balfour, researcher at the University of Sussex within the School of Life Sciences, said: “Our database summarizes a wealth of information about plant-pollinator interactions that were previously hidden in the scientific literature. This unique resource can be used to identify fundamental to answer ecological questions about pollination interactions, as well as applied questions in conservation practice.”

“We hope the public can use the database to help them select pollinator-friendly species to plant in their gardens and, most importantly, which plants not to ‘weed'”. What is striking is that many common garden weeds are associated with a wide diversity of pollinator species.”

“This resource would not have been possible without the data kindly shared by researchers and citizen scientists, and the hard work of the 11 undergraduate, graduate and PhD students who scrupulously participated in it.”

The importance of flower-insect interactions for sustaining global biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and agricultural production is well known. However, major concerns remain about declining pollinator and plant populations and shrinking distributions. For example, more than 40 British bee, wasp and butterfly species have become extinct in the past two centuries. While possible causes have been identified, the long-term decline of flowers in our landscapes is considered a key factor by experts.

Prof Dave Goulson said: “We plan that DoPI will continue to grow over time, as new records are collected and added, providing a live resource for anyone interested in pollinators or insect-pollinated flowers.

“Insect populations are rapidly declining and we need to take urgent action. This database helps show where to start when it comes to planting pollinators on a daily basis.”

By combining a large amount of information in one repository, DoPI can be used to answer fundamental ecological questions about the dynamics of pollination interactions over space and time, as well as applied questions in conservation practice. The researchers hope the database will be a useful resource not only to researchers, but also to conservationists, funding agencies, government agencies, beekeepers, agronomists and avid gardeners.

dr. Maria Clara Castellanos said: “DoPI is a remarkable resource that will have an impact on both applied and academic levels. It is so unique that researchers from Canada and the US have already reached out to us for collaborations to create similar databases in their regions”

The database can be accessed at www.dopi.org.uk.


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