Why saving moths could be just as important as preserving bees?

A new study from the University of Sheffield suggests that nocturnal pollinators such as moths are just as important as bees in terms of visiting plants and should receive equal attention in conservation and protection efforts.

Vital role: moths support urban plants

Research indicates that moths, which have more specific plant requirements and a complex life cycle, maybe less resilient than bees when faced with urbanization pressures. Moths play an important role in supporting urban plant communities, as they account for a third of all pollination on flowering plants, crops, and trees.

The study highlights the importance of incorporating plant species that benefit both moths and bees when planning or redeveloping urban areas.

The researchers emphasize that protecting urban green spaces and ensuring that their development supports a wide range of wildlife, including moths, will contribute to the resilience of both pollinator populations and the overall health of cities.

Published in the journal Ecology Letters, the study reveals that bees and moths visit different plant communities. The moths were found to carry more pollen than previously recognized and visit a broader range of tree species and fruit crops.

Protecting urban green spaces

“Protecting urban green spaces, and ensuring that they are developed in a way that goes beyond the sole conservation of bees, will ensure that bee and moth populations remain resilient, and that our towns and cities remain healthier and more sustainable green places,” says Dr Emilie Ellis, lead author from the Grantham Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield, and now from the Research Center for Ecological Change (REC) at the University of Helsinki.

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In the study, Ellis and her co-authors showed that bees and moths visit significantly different plant communities. Along with the usual pale, fragrant flower species that moths are known to frequent, the study showed that the moths carried more pollen than previously thought and visited more types of trees and fruit crops than identified.

“Moths are not generally appreciated by people, so they can often be overlooked in comparison to bees when talking about protection and conservation,” said Ellis, who also mentioned that it is becoming apparent that there needs to be an effort much more focused to raise awareness about the role of these animals in establishing healthy environments, “especially since we know that moth populations have decreased drastically in the last 50 years,” continues the author.

Reductions in plant species diversity

In urbanized areas, reductions in plant species diversity, often due to the abundance of non-native plants, can negatively affect interactions between insects and less attractive plant species, affecting plant and insect populations.

The research underscores the crucial role moths play in pollination, including crop pollination, and highlights the need to raise awareness of their importance in establishing healthy environments. The findings have implications for initiatives promoting wildlife-friendly gardening, urban planning, and policy-making related to urban green spaces.

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Dr Stuart Campbell, lead author of the study from the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences, emphasizes the complexity of pollination networks involving insects and plants.

The study used DNA sequencing to identify the pollen carried by night-flying moths, revealing its contribution to the pollination of various plant species.

Understanding these networks and identifying plant species suitable for different pollinators, including nocturnal moths, can help provide sufficient food sources and support for all pollinators.

Along the same lines, Dr Stuart Campbell said: “Most plants rely on insects for pollination, but knowing which insects pollinate is in It’s really a very difficult question to answer.”

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