Imperial College London Centenary
 
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Implications for conservation and biodiversity


We know very little about the effects of agriculture and climate change on plant communities and our most treasured insects. To conserve our dwindling biodiversity, we need to identify the signals from the plants that support each insect species, and which insects support each plant.
A natural plant community has many plant species flowering at different times of year. Each plant species synchronises its blooming to ensure cross-pollination. At any one time only a few plants will be calling for pollinators, avoiding confusion. In turn the specialist butterflies and solitary bees have flight periods that coincide with only those plants that provide essential nutrients for their egg production. An insect may need to feed from more than one plant species to gain all the nutrients it needs for successful reproduction, or acquire predator-repellent materials.
Floral succession is vital to support the social bumblebees and honeybees that are present throughout the year and over-winter as adults. Although individual bees are short-lived, the nest as a whole has to be supported from different flower sources as the season progresses.
All plant communities have late flowering species that provide a sugar feast to help over-wintering adult pollinators such as bees and some butterflies build up fat reserves. The following spring these insects pollinate different and more specialist plant species that promote egg development with fat and amino acid rich nectar. In this way the autumn and spring flowering plants use the same pollinators but the rewards are different to reflect the insects changing needs.
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