Cover stories: celebrating the beauty of pollinators

This month’s Journal of Applied Ecology cover shows a foraging male Habropoda tarsata. Photographer, David Kleijn shares the joy of rediscovering your passion for your study species.

These days when we talk and write about pollinators, it is often in the context of their role as providers of pollination services. Pollinators are important for maintaining the production of the insect-pollinated crops that provide most of the nutrients, oil and flavour to our meals. Crop pollination grows with increasing visitation rates of crop flowers and with increasing diversity of the species visiting those flowers. Discussions about pollinators are generally rational and deal with ecosystem processes and mechanisms in which individual species are considered exchangeable unless they have different traits or occupy different niches. There is much debate about functional groups, z-scores, effect sizes and coefficients of variation. What is often forgotten however, is how exceptionally beautiful these pollinators can be and what an enormous variety in shapes, colours and behaviour they display. I was reminded of this when I visited the study area of Garibaldi et al.’s Practitioner’s Perspective, Crop pollination management needs flower‐visitor monitoring and target values.

[Take a look at David’s selection of images from his visit to the study site below]

 

As my career advances I spend less and less time in the field myself and more and more time sitting in offices or meeting rooms discussing results based on data that other people have collected. I don’t particularly mind but every once and a while I need to get out to see for myself what the ‘system looks like’. To better understand what we are talking about. To be a field ecologist once more. In April 2018, the start of the last field season of Thijs Fijen’s (coauthor of this article) PhD project seemed like an excellent excuse for a much needed reality check. At the time Thijs studied pollination in hybrid leek seed production fields in the south of Italy. A couple of days in the Mediterranean spring, driving through agricultural landscapes ablaze with flowers. Semi-natural habitats buzzing with bees. Insects flitting from semi-natural habitat to crop and back – a pollinator ecologist’s dream, especially now, when digital photography can capture aspects that the naked eye can’t see.

Habropoda tarsata, this month’s Journal of Applied Ecology cover species, is a bee that is widespread in large parts of southern Europe and the Middle East. It is striking with green marbled eyes, yellow mandibles, reddish-brown fur on the back, white-haired tail and legs, and an outsized hind metatarsus (hence, I guess, the species name). It was accompanied by many other species that were just as fascinating because of the way they looked and behaved. Male long-horned bees dangling upside down on borage flowers to access the nectar. Female long-horned bees clutching fumitory flowers to do the same. Sweat bees curling around Brassiceae anthers to gather pollen. Unfamiliar-looking red-tailed bumblebees that have yellow hairbands instead of the uniform black coat they wear in the Netherlands. Mining bees sunbathing on one of the dozens of daisy-like species that pop up everywhere in roadsides and field margins. The list goes on.

Just a couple of days. But enough to remind me of why I started doing this work.

This month’s cover article is the Practitioner’s Perspective, Crop pollination management needs flower‐visitor monitoring and target values. Read it for free in Journal of Applied Ecology.

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