27 July, 2022

Collecting garden plant-pollinator data during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020

 By Ollerton et al.

Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum)
pollinating the flowers of Broad Beans (Vicia faba)
in a British garden © Jeff Ollerton

During the
lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many pollination ecologists were stuck at home: universities and research institutes were closed and restrictions on travel meant that it was not possible to get out and do field work. In order to keep active and motivated, and to turn adversity into an opportunity, an ad hoc network of more than 70 researchers from 15 different countries decided to collect standardised data on the plant-pollinator networks in their own gardens and nearby public spaces.

When combined with information about location, size of garden, floral diversity, how the garden is managed, and so forth, this would provide some useful data about how gardens support pollinators. For those with kids at home it could also be a good way of getting them out into fresh air and giving them something to do!

Following discussions, several different protocols were instigated which depended upon the time available to the researchers, including one that mirrored the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme's  FIT (Flower-Insect Timed) counts: https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/pollinator-monitoring

The resulting data set of almost 47,000 visits by insects and birds to flowers, as well as information about flowers that were never visited, is freely available and will be an invaluable resource for pollination ecologists. For example, analysing the links between ornamental flowers that share pollinators with fruits and vegetables such as apples and beans, will allow us to make recommendations for the best plants to grow in home gardens that can increase yields of crops.  

There's an old saying about turning adversity into a positive outcome: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade", and the researchers were pleased to find that there’s one record of Citrus limon in the data set.

Read the scientific publication at JPE.