Moths: Not Just a Nuisance, But Essential Pollinators to Protect

by Mateo Gonzalez
6 comments
Moth Conservation

Image of a bee. Courtesy of Emilie Ellis and Stuart Campbell.

A recent study from the University of Sheffield highlights the role of moths, typically night-time pollinators, as equally vital to plant pollination as bees, underlining the need for enhanced conservation and protective efforts for them.

The research found that moths might be less resilient to the pressures of urbanization than bees, given their complex life cycle and more specific plant requirements. Yet, despite such vulnerabilities, moths contribute significantly to sustaining urban plant ecosystems. They account for a third of the pollination activity in flowering plants, crops, and trees.

The researchers advocate for a more inclusive approach to urban planning and redevelopment, suggesting the promotion of plant species that benefit both moths and bees. This strategy is key to nurturing the well-being of urban ecosystems.

Image of moth. Courtesy of Emilie Ellis and Stuart Campbell.

Dr. Emilie Ellis, the primary author from the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Institute for Sustainable Futures and currently at the Research Centre for Ecological Change (REC) at the University of Helsinki, remarked, “Our research noticed a decrease in the diversity of pollen carried by moths and bees in more urbanized areas, implying fewer flower resources for these pollinators.

Given the mutual reliance between insects and plants for survival, the protection and development of urban green spaces that support various wildlife, not just bees, is critical. This strategy ensures the resilience of both bee and moth populations and contributes to healthier, greener urban landscapes.”

Dr. Ellis and her fellow authors demonstrated in their study that bees and moths engage with markedly different plant communities. Besides their typical visitations to pale, fragrant flower species, moths were observed to carry more pollen than previously assumed, visiting a wider variety of tree and fruit crops.

In urbanized areas, an excess of non-native plant species or an overall dip in plant diversity could lead to fewer insect interactions with less attractive plant species, adversely affecting both plant and insect populations.

Image of moth. Courtesy of Emilie Ellis and Stuart Campbell.

Dr. Ellis emphasizes that the research underscores the importance of moths in plant and crop pollination. The findings hold implications for initiatives promoting wildlife-friendly gardening, urban planners, and policymakers in charge of developing green spaces for parks or urban horticulture.

Dr. Ellis stated, “Moths often go unnoticed compared to bees when discussing protection and conservation due to the general lack of appreciation for them. However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that we need a concerted effort to highlight the significant role moths play in nurturing healthy environments. This is especially important given the drastic decline in moth populations over the past 50 years.

When designing green spaces, we need to ensure a diverse, moth-friendly planting strategy alongside bee-friendly practices to sustain the resilience of both our plants and insects amid the climate crisis and potential losses.”

Dr. Stuart Campbell, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences and a senior author on the study, added, “Many plants depend on insects for pollination, but determining which insects are doing the pollination is a challenging question. Although there are about 250 species of bees in the UK that we know quite a bit about, we also have over 2,500 species of moths, which visit flowers mostly at night, so we know less about them.

Our study used DNA sequencing to identify the pollen that adheres to moths when they visit flowers at night. We found that moths are likely pollinating a variety of plant species, many wild, that are less likely to be pollinated by bees – and vice versa. The study affirms that pollination involves complex networks of insects and plants, which may be delicate and susceptible to urbanization. By understanding the best plant food sources for different insects, including nocturnal ones like adult moths, we can better provide for all our pollinators.”

Reference: “Negative effects of urbanisation on diurnal and nocturnal pollen-transport networks” by Emilie E. Ellis, Jill L. Edmondson, Kathryn H. Maher, Helen Hipperson and Stuart A. Campbell, 5 June 2023, Ecology Letters. DOI: 10.1111/ele.14261

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Moth Conservation

What is the main finding of the University of Sheffield’s study?

The study highlights the essential role that moths, often overlooked compared to bees, play in plant pollination. It underscores the need for equal conservation and protective efforts for these nocturnal pollinators.

How do moths contribute to urban ecosystems?

Moths contribute significantly to sustaining urban plant ecosystems. They account for one-third of the pollination activity in flowering plants, crops, and trees.

How does urbanization affect moths and bees according to the study?

Urbanization results in a decrease in the diversity of pollen carried by moths and bees, implying fewer flower resources for these pollinators. Urbanized areas may also see an overabundance of non-native plant species or a reduction in plant diversity, leading to fewer insect interactions with less attractive plant species.

What are the implications of the study for urban planning and redevelopment?

The study suggests that urban planning and redevelopment should support the introduction of plant species beneficial for both moths and bees. It advocates for the development of urban green spaces that support a diverse array of wildlife to ensure the resilience of both bee and moth populations and contribute to healthier, greener urban landscapes.

How can the study’s findings be applied to wildlife-friendly gardening initiatives?

The research emphasizes the importance of moths in plant and crop pollination. The findings hold implications for initiatives promoting wildlife-friendly gardening, suggesting that planting strategies should be both moth-friendly and bee-friendly to sustain the resilience of plants and insects amid potential environmental challenges.

More about Moth Conservation

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6 comments

EcoWarrior June 26, 2023 - 3:28 am

sad to hear how urbanization is hurting moths and bees, we need to fight this.

Reply
UrbanGardner June 26, 2023 - 6:35 am

Interesting stuff! didn’t think about moths when planning my garden. Time to change that.

Reply
JohnBeeLover June 26, 2023 - 7:05 am

fascinating, I had no idea moths were this important. should definetly help them out more!

Reply
SarahNature June 26, 2023 - 8:24 am

thats really worrying, poor moths! We need to do more for them, not just the bees.

Reply
ScientistSam June 26, 2023 - 10:54 am

Excellent research! Its critical to highlight the lesser-known pollinators.

Reply
EmilyGreenThumb June 26, 2023 - 5:02 pm

Time to add more moth-friendly plants in my garden, thanks for sharing.

Reply

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