By Dr. Jane Stout
We’re very proud that the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and its guidelines are ‘evidence based’. This means they are informed by scientific research into what is driving pollinator decline, what the consequences of pollinator loss are for us and for our ecosystems, and how we can best reverse that decline. And the Irish Pollinator Research Network (IPRN) has been as busy as proverbial bees doing this research.
Here are some recent highlights from the network:
- The IPRN annual meeting was held in UCD in January as a hybrid event, with approx. 40 researchers from TCD, UCD, NUIG, NBDC, and MU attending to present and discuss the latest updates. Twenty presentations were made, covering a wide range of pollinator topics including habitat loss, pesticide and climate change risks to pollinators; a range of approaches to studying pollinators – from computer modelling, to field methods and monitoring; and lots of novel data from lab and field studies in farmland and urban parks. And the researchers were as diverse as the topics – undergraduate and masters students, PhD researchers, post-doctoral scientists, project managers and coordinators, and principle investigators (lecturers/professors).
- UCD researchers Katie Burns and Dara Stanley found that fruit and seed set in Irish apple cultivars are enhanced with insect pollination and that whilst honey bees contribute most to pollination in one variety of apples, bumblebees are the most important pollinators of another. They showed that wild pollinating insects provide a considerable proportion of the pollination services to Irish apple orchards and that healthy bee populations contribute financially to apple growers. Read the full paper here.
- Economic modelling led by TCD researchers James Murphy and Jane Stout, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Reading, revealed that pollinator losses in countries with smaller, less-developed economies, have impacts on large, developed economies. This research was picked up by the media, highlighting that richer nations must work towards global pollinator conservation, or risk reductions in food supplies and ingredient shortages that could cost them billions of euro in economic disruption. Read the full paper here.
- A collaborative project, led by UCD’s Simon Hodge, with Teagasc’s Steph Maher, and Trinity’s Jane Stout, is examining what kind of nesting sites solitary bees prefer. Several different sorts of insect hotel, which stem-nesting bees and wasps colonise, have become very popular, but we don’t know much about what sort of hotel is most effective, which kinds of bees nest in these hotels, and where they should be placed. Funded by an INJ small grant, Simon has been busy putting different sorts of hotels out in various habitat types to see which the bees choose to nest in. The team have also been successful in securing funding to investigate ways to encourage ground- and stem-nesting solitary bees on farmland, to inform agri-environment measures, and a new PhD student will start work on this project later in 2022.
- TCD’s Jane Stout, in collaboration with leading pollination expert Lynn Dicks from Cambridge University, contributed an article to a collection of papers on bee health, recently published in the prestigious, and world’s longest running, scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. They argue that most pollinator conservation initiatives (except of course our own All-Ireland Pollinator Plan) fall short of thinking broadly enough in pollinator conservation, across research, regulation, monitoring, engagement and management. Specifically, the wider benefits of conserving pollinators should be communicated; and the role of socio-political, economic, technical and cultural issues need to be better considered. We can learn a lot from understanding pollinator conservation that can help wider biodiversity conservation and restoration actions.
- MU PhD candidate Merissa Cullen produced an article for RTÉ brainstorm urging gardeners to think twice about using pesticides, particularly herbicides, in their gardens this spring. The article outlines the importance of native wildflowers for Irish bees, with an emphasis on how little is known about the effects of herbicides on bee health. Readers were urged to reduce pesticide use and take part in more bee-friendly gardening practices whilst researchers continue to investigate the full impacts of herbicides on bees. The PROTECTS project, funded by the department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, is currently working to uncover the impacts of herbicides on wild bees and ecosystems in Ireland. https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2022/0323/1288029-bees-pesticides-weedkillers-habitat/
- The Protecting Farmland Pollinators European Innovation Partnership Project has recently published an Action Sheet on how to create solitary bee nest sites on the farm. The action sheet was put together in consultation with farmers using the data from the Protecting Farmland Pollinators Surveys conducted in 2020. Across nineteen farms, a total of nine different bees were observed. Nest sites were occupied on all farm types (6 beef, 4 dairy, 4 mixed and 5 tillage). The highest number of species of ground nesting mining bees were found within areas less than one metre squared. Ground-nesting solitary bees were found occupying banks of different aspects, with the highest number nesting at a southerly aspect.
About the Irish Pollinator Research Network
Launched in 2017, the IPRN is an open network of pollinator researchers committed to building the evidence base for pollinator conservation and management in Ireland. Since the launch of the AIPP in 2015, enthusiasm for pollinator conservation has boomed in all sectors – government, business and civil society. Yet, conservation actions need to be effective and need to be informed by a scientific base. The IPRN is providing that base. Since establishment, the group continues to grow. It met at TCD in 2018, DCU in 2019, MU in 2020 and UCD in 2022. Find out more here.