Pollinators, Plants and I

As this is my first post for wildlife articles I had thought I better start off with something interesting, something to grab the your attention. I also thought it a good idea to maybe share my background with you. I suppose I’m what you would call an aspiring conservationist and ecologist. I’ve helped with the radio-tracking of Pine Marten in North Co. Mayo, scrubbed rocks for Diatom sampling in Donegal, had pipistrelles fly inches over my head in Galway, carried out transects and surveys for a number of citizen science wildlife monitoring schemes in various parts of the country and also had an internship with the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Co. Waterford. I’m interested in, well, just about everything, but if it’s specifics you’re looking for I suppose I would have to say (currently) my main interests are pollinators and the Flora of Ireland. There’s tonnes of other things too, but for the first few months, I’ll probably only be writing about these two topics.

Plants and pollinators go hand-in-hand, it makes sense to study both, as they are intrinsically linked to one another. Butterflies and moths not only feed and pollinate but they also lay their egg on specific plants (known as food plants), when these eggs hatch, larvae emerge and begin to eat their fill of that particular plant. Bumblebees are prolific pollinators, due to their hairiness and their ability to visit an amazing amount of flowers within a short period of time. But why should any of this be of interest to the general public, well there are number of reasons, firstly, we rely heavily on plants and the work of pollinators. This importance even reaches well beyond the realms of the environment.

6-spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae) on Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

6-spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae) on Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) – Oisín Duffy

Pollinators are of high environmental and economic value. The Department of the Environment (Ireland) states that bees are worth €85 million a year to the Irish economy. They are responsible for the pollination of 75% of the world’s crop species and 94% of all wild flowering plants (Vanbergen, 2013). Vanbergen (2012) states that in 2005 insects supplied pollination services, valued at 215 billion US Dollars globally. Pollinators also maintain biological diversity which is essential for the continuation of human well-being, but unfortunately they are in rapid decline due to environmental degradation (Albrecht et al, 2012).

Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) collecting nectar from a Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.)

Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) collecting nectar from a Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.) – Oisín Duffy

There are many ways to encourage wildlife in your garden (if you have one) or community area. Leaving areas to grow wild instead of mowing, seeing what wildflowers pop up and if they’re attracting anything. This is great on a number of levels, firstly you’re making a space for nature to thrive, secondly you’re encouraging people to become interested in nature, we’re naturally curious beings, so when something that you haven’t seen before starts appearing you’re gonna want to find out what it was. Similarly you have an area to inspire the younger generation of budding naturalist. Thirdly, you’re leaving yourself with less work to do, which means more time to do whatever you want (you may end up spending even more time in the garden, but instead of cutting grass you’ll be engrossed in a bumblebee collecting pollen or newly emerged caterpillars on a nettle patch). Another way you can help is by not spraying weed-killer or spreading fertilizer/pesticides (or at least cut down on your use). All these things do what they say on the tin and they all have one thing in common, reducing our native biodiversity. I often wonder, if you need to wear a mask/goggles/gloves and keep your small children and pets indoors when spraying a substance on your land, is it really worth spraying at all?

Small section of my "wild" area from Co. Donegal, taken earlier in the year. Some of the species include - White Clover (Trifolium repens), Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), Dandelions (Taraxacum agg.), Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus), Cock's foot (Dactylis glomerata)

Small section of my “wild” area from Co. Donegal, taken earlier in the year. Some of the species include – White Clover (Trifolium repens), Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), Dandelions (Taraxacum agg.), Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus), Cock’s foot (Dactylis glomerata) – Oisín Duffy

From now till the end of the year I’ll be giving species accounts on pollinators that I have come across in the last few months and possibly some botanical updates and finds from my home county of Donegal.

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Oisin Duffy

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