Citizen science data reveals the need for keeping garden plant recommendations up‑to‑date to help pollinators

Helen B Anderson* (Corresponding Author), Anne-Marie Robinson, Advaith Siddharthan, Nirwan Sharma, Helen Bostock, Andrew Salisbury, Stuart Roberts, Rene Van der Wal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Widespread concern over declines in pollinating insects has led to numerous recommendations of which “pollinator-friendly” plants to grow and help turn urban environments into valuable habitat for such important wildlife. Whilst communicated widely by organisations and readily taken up by gardeners, the provenance, accuracy, specificity and timeliness of such recommendations remain unclear. Here we use data (6429 records) gathered through a UK-wide citizen science programme (BeeWatch) to determine food plant use by the nations’ bumblebee species, and show that much of the plant use recorded does not reflect practitioner recommendations: correlation between the practitioners’ bumblebee-friendly plant list (376 plants compiled from 14 different sources) and BeeWatch records (334 plants) was low (r = 0.57), and only marginally higher than the correlation between BeeWatch records and the practitioners’ pollinator-friendly plant list (465 plants from 9 different sources; r = 0.52). We found pollinator-friendly plant lists to lack independence (correlation between practitioners’ bumblebee-friendly and pollinator-friendly lists: r = 0.75), appropriateness and precision, thus failing to recognise the non-binary nature of food-plant preference (bumblebees used many plants, but only in small quantities, e.g. lavender—the most popular plant in the BeeWatch database—constituted, at most, only 11% of records for any one bumblebee species) and stark differences therein among species and pollinator groups. We call for the provision and use of up-to-date dynamic planting recommendations driven by live (citizen science) data, with the possibility to specify pollinator species or group, to powerfully support transformative personal learning journeys and pollinator-friendly management of garden spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20483
Number of pages8
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the many thousands of BeeWatch users who submitted the data used in this paper and the bumblebee experts who have used their valuable skills to verify bumblebee identifications. We are also grateful to Ola Lun-din and three referees for their insightful comments. This work was supported by funds from the RCUK dot. rural Digital Economy Research Hub, University of Aberdeen (Grant reference: EP/G066051/1), NERC (Public Engagement Pilot 2016_094) and EPSRC (grant reference: EP/S027513/1).


  • ecology


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