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Remarkable Roadsides – Pollinator Biodiversity Will Help Us Get There

Data mining often has negative connotations although its use could be essential for conservation. In the UK, researchers took advantage of data mining capabilities to study the impact of human development on wildlife populations, both plants, and animals. Everywhere we go, there are strips of land between concrete buildings and highways that are left void of biodiversity. The purpose of the data mining research in the UK was to focus on road verge pollinator biodiversity located on highways.

A road verge is a vegetated strip of land that contains either grass, shrubs, or forest. These areas are beneficial for providing over-wintering habitat for insects and small mammals as well as increasing food availability for these species. The unfortunate locations of these verges expose plants and animals to pollution from vehicles. These vehicles can also be detrimental to biodiversity by increasing the probability of vehicle collisions.

As seasons change from spring to summer, road verges provide important habitat for many migrating birds and insects. Having access to these areas improves species populations and ensures the health of a colony. As more species find these access points, they are exposed to other individuals of the same species resulting in increased breeding and reproduction that can stabilize or improve populations, most notably in bees and wasps.

Of the 140 studies that were examined, most were conducted in either North America or Europe. These studies revealed that road verges are an important aspect of pollinator and plant biodiversity. Road verges were found to have a greater density of flowers and pollinators than agriculture fields and forests1. While agriculture can appear to be beneficial to the environment, large production farms essentially create biodiversity dead zones. Road verges that are dense with flowers and pollinators ensure these species have access to each other for food and reproduction. The closer together these road verges are, the less these species need to travel.

Road verges were found to have a greater density of flowers and pollinators than agriculture fields and forests.

With every upside, there is bound to be a downside. While road verges were found to have a denser population of flowers and pollinators, the variety of these populations was exceptionally low1. Monocultures of flowers and pollinators are detrimental to species survival. In-breeding and genetic mutations are almost guaranteed to occur.

By creating and maintaining high-quality native or semi-native habitat, pollinator biodiversity has been shown to improve. Creating these spaces is minimal, requiring 0-2 mowing’s a year in early autumn and/or early spring1. Doing so prevents competitive non-native flower varieties from germinating or spreading seed allowing beneficial varieties to repopulate. Researchers in the Netherlands concluded that increasing the number of road verge mowing’s zero to 1 per year increased flower density by 3.5 times and flower variety doubled1.

Researchers in the Netherlands concluded that increasing the number of road verge mowing’s zero to 1 per year increased flower density by 3.5 times and flower variety doubled.

The landscape surrounding road verges may also play a significant role in pollinator habitat. For instance, road verges that are near higher quality habitats often contain more pollinators. Road verges placed in areas with intensive agricultural landscapes often play a different role by supporting pollinator populations that are dependent upon them for habitat and nutrition.

Restorative landscaping will become essential if habitats continue to be destroyed by human interventions. Vacant properties can be maintained with mowing at least once a year and in turn, improve the look and feel of communities. Maintaining road verges, in the same way, will also support vulnerable pollinator habitats in areas considered to be biodiversity dead zones. With a little ingenuity, solutions to biodiversity issues can be as simple as using a lawnmower.

Reference

  1. Phillips, B. B., Wallace, C., Roberts, B., Whitehouse, A., Gaston, K., Bullock, J., … Dicks, L. (2020, October). Enhancing road verges to aid pollinator conservation: A review. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000632072030745X?via%3Dihub
Maintained roadside verges can support vulnerable pollinator habitats with a little ingenuity and simple solutions.
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