What do you do?
I study bee and hoverfly conservation in farmland landscapes. Bees and hoverflies are important pollinators of agricultural crops and wild plant species; however, bees in particular are declining. The main cause for this decline is due to the loss of flower-rich habitat: with over 90% of our wildflower-rich grasslands being lost since the 1930’s. This has resulted in the reduction of the flowers pollinators need to feed on. In response to this, the government encourages farmers to provide wildflower margins on their land to help support them.
In the UK there are nearly 600 species of bees and hoverflies. There are studies showing that these margins are beneficial to large, charismatic social bee species such as bumblebees (26 species) and honey bees (1 species), however, they are only a small proportion of the pollinator community. The majority of bees are small, solitary (do not live communally in colonies) and will feed on different plants than their larger, social relatives. We know the flowers sown in these margin seed mixes are beneficial for bumblebees but there have been few studies on how these conservation measures are affecting solitary bees or hoverflies. Therefore, my PhD compares the effects on pollinator communities of field margins sown with seed mixes versus those that are unsown and left to grow naturally.
We are particularly interested in understanding how the physical traits of pollinators influence what flowers they feed on. The body size of an insect and the length of its tongue (to reach nectar inside of different shaped flowers) are two crucial traits that we will measure to explore how these insects are foraging on these margins. This is important as it helps us to understand why different pollinator species are feeding on different plants – which is information we can use to potentially develop future management practices to aid in their conservation.
What can I see?
In Norfolk and Suffolk, where my study sites are, there are many arable fields with crops like wheat and sugar beet. The field margins I work on are often are full of wildflowers, bees, hoverflies, butterflies and many other kinds of wildlife too.
When I’m not doing science I…
love gardening, I have way too many plants (20+ plants at home) but I adore researching their origins and caring for them. I’m also massive geek and really like fantasy, sci-fi and anime. I enjoy playing badminton as well, and every week a few of us in my department will meet up to play.