Turnover in floral composition explains species diversity and temporal stability in the nectar supply of urban residential gardens

Nicholas E. Tew*, Katherine Baldock, Ian P. Vaughan, Stephanie Bird, Jane Memmott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

1. Residential gardens are a valuable habitat for insect pollinators worldwide, but differences in individual gardening practices substantially affect their floral composition. It is important to understand how the floral resource supply of gardens varies in both space and time so we can develop evidence-based management recommendations to support pollinator conservation in towns and cities.
2. We surveyed residential gardens in the city of Bristol, UK, at monthly intervals from March to October. For each of 472 garden surveys, we combined floral abundances with nectar sugar data to quantify the nectar production of each garden, investigating the magnitude, temporal stability, and diversity and composition of garden nectar supplies.
3. We found that individual gardens differ markedly in the quantity of nectar sugar they supply (from 2 g to 1662 g), and nectar production is higher in more affluent neighbourhoods, but not in larger gardens. Nectar supply peaks in July (mid-summer), when more plant taxa are in flower, but temporal patterns vary among individual gardens. At larger spatial scales, temporal variability averages out through the portfolio effect, meaning insect pollinators foraging across many gardens in urban landscapes have access to a relatively stable and continuous supply of nectar through the year.
4. Turnover in species composition among gardens leads to an extremely high overall plant richness, with 636 taxa recorded flowering. The nectar supply is dominated by non-natives, which provide 91% of all nectar sugar, while shrubs are the main plant life form contributing to nectar production (58%). Two thirds of nectar sugar is only available to relatively specialised pollinators, leaving just one third that is accessible to all.
5. Synthesis and applications. Our study demonstrates that pollinator-friendly management, affecting garden quality, is more important than the size of a garden, giving every gardener an opportunity to contribute to pollinator conservation in urban areas. For gardeners interested in increasing the value of their land to foraging pollinators we recommend planting nectar-rich shrubs with complementary flowering periods and prioritising flowers with an open structure in late summer and autumn.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Oct 2021

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