Citizen science data reveals the need for keeping garden plant recommendations up-to-date to help pollinators

Anderson, Helen B.; Robinson, Annie; Siddharthan, Advaith; Sharma, Nirwan; Bostock, Helen; Salisbury, Andrew; Roberts, Stuart and van der Wal, René (2020). Citizen science data reveals the need for keeping garden plant recommendations up-to-date to help pollinators. Scientific Reports, 10(1), article no. 20483.



Widespread concern over declines in pollinating insects has led to numerous recommendations of which “pollinator-friendly” plants to grow and help turn urban environments into valuable habitat for such important wildlife. Whilst communicated widely by organisations and readily taken up by gardeners, the provenance, accuracy, specificity and timeliness of such recommendations remain unclear. Here we use data (6429 records) gathered through a UK-wide citizen science programme (BeeWatch) to determine food plant use by the nations’ bumblebee species, and show that much of the plant use recorded does not reflect practitioner recommendations: correlation between the practitioners’ bumblebee-friendly plant list (376 plants compiled from 14 different sources) and BeeWatch records (334 plants) was low (r = 0.57), and only marginally higher than the correlation between BeeWatch records and the practitioners’ pollinator-friendly plant list (465 plants from 9 different sources; r = 0.52). We found pollinator-friendly plant lists to lack independence (correlation between practitioners’ bumblebee-friendly and pollinator-friendly lists: r = 0.75), appropriateness and precision, thus failing to recognise the non-binary nature of food-plant preference (bumblebees used many plants, but only in small quantities, e.g. lavender—the most popular plant in the BeeWatch database—constituted, at most, only 11% of records for any one bumblebee species) and stark differences therein among species and pollinator groups. We call for the provision and use of up-to-date dynamic planting recommendations driven by live (citizen science) data, with the possibility to specify pollinator species or group, to powerfully support transformative personal learning journeys and pollinator-friendly management of garden spaces.

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