Look out, bees, these creatures of the night are super spreaders
The crucial role bees play in sustaining life on Earth is well understood, but there are some other animals doing more than their share of heavy lifting when it comes to pollinating plant life and propping up natural resources we rely on.
Researchers from the University of Sussex have found that moths are more efficient pollinators than their day-flying insect brethren, highlighting the underestimated role they play in keeping ecosystems alive.
“Bees are undoubtedly important, but our work has shown that moths pollinate flowers at a faster rate than day-flying insects,” said study co-author Fiona Mathews, professor of environmental biology at the University of Sussex.
The team collected 389,677 images from 10 monitored sites across three days, recording 11,564 “insect flower-visiting events” that saw 38,216 grains of pollen counted. While moths were not the most common visitor (that went to the hover fly, Syrphidae), accounting for just 16% of insect guests, they were overachievers when it came to moving and depositing pollen.
This is, of course, essential in the life cycle of many plants, playing an integral role in sustaining ecosystems. Three quarters of the world’s crops rely on insect pollination, yet their numbers are drastically declining due to climate change and development.
“Moths are important pollinators, and they are greatly under-appreciated and under-studied,” said co-author Max Anderson, from the University of Sussex. “The majority of pollination research tends to focus on day-flying insects, with little understanding of what happens at night.”
The day-flying insects spread more pollen over a longer period of daylight hours, but moths were more efficient workers in a shorter time frame. And while a moth's juvenile caterpillar stage of their life cycle can wreak havoc on plants, their hard work as adults needs more recognition.
The research also highlights how urban environments directly affect wildlife and suggests simple changes like turning off outdoor house lights at night can help keep nocturnal pollinators focused on their vital work.
“Now we know that moths are also important pollinators, we need to take action to support them,” said Anderson.
The study was published in the journal PLOS One.
Source: University of Sussex
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