New Online Database Helps Gardeners Plant to Attract Pollinators

Wooden beehives in a wildflower meadow
Wooden beehives in a wildflower meadow in Iver, Buckinghmashire, UK. Jacky Parker Photography / Moment / Getty Images
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Despite the importance of pollinators to the world’s food supply and ecosystem health, surprisingly little is known about which flowers many pollinator species prefer, which flowers are pollinated by which insects and how these interactions fluctuate over time.

To help address this issue, University of Sussex researchers have developed a new online database that documents the interactions between pollinators and plants, with the hope that it will give the public insight into how to strategically plant for pollinator species in support of biodiversity.

“We hope the public can use the database to help them select pollinator friendly species to plant in their gardens and importantly, which plants not to ‘weed.’ One of the things that stands out from the data so far is that many common garden weeds are associated with a great diversity of pollinator species,” said Dr. Nicholas Balfour, researcher at the School of Life Sciences at University of Sussex, as Phys.org reported.

The Database of Pollinator Interactions (DoPI) brings together contrasting datasets and publications of more than 300,000 interactions between plants and pollinators. It consists of records from nearly 2,000 pollinators and more than 1,000 plants.

A bumble bee pollinating a lavender flower. Busybee-CR / Moment / Getty Images

 A new paper published in the journal Ecology provides an outline of DoPI and how the database works.

The “database summarizes a wealth of information on plant-pollinator interactions that were previously buried in the scientific literature,” Balfour said, as reported by Phys.org. “This unique resource can be used to answer fundamental ecological questions on pollination interactions, as well as applied questions in conservation practice.”

According to the University of Sussex, the British plant and pollinator species taxonomy — British meaning those that are native, naturalized and exotic — follows that of the National Biodiversity Network. There are five categories users may search in the DoPI database, including pollinators, plants, type of habitat, location and date. The database will continue to be updated with new information.

Interactions between pollinators and flowers are essential to keep ecosystems healthy and for the maintenance of biodiversity worldwide, but numbers of plants and pollinators have been declining fast. In the last 200 years, 40 percent of British wasp, bee and butterfly species have gone extinct, Phys.org reported. Experts believe a key factor in this drastic decline is the decrease in the numbers of flowers in the environment.

“Insect populations are declining rapidly, and we urgently need to take action. This database helps show where to begin when it comes to everyday planting for pollinators,” said University of Sussex professor of biology Dave Goulson, who specializes in bee ecology, as reported by Phys.org.

With its wealth of data on pollination interactions, DoPI can be used for basic ecological inquiries, as well as questions having to do with conservation.

The researchers hope an array of users will take advantage of the database, from beekeepers and gardeners to funding agencies and agricultural specialists.

“DoPI is a remarkable resource that will make an impact at both applied and academic levels. It is so unique that researchers from Canada and the U.S. have already contacted us for collaborations to create similar databases in their regions,” said Dr. Maria Clara Castellanos, lecturer in evolution, behaviour and environment at University of Sussex, as Phys.org reported.

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