Tuesday 25 July 2017

Why am I creating a flower map of Ireland?

Dr Eileen Power is an Irish Research Council-funded Postdoctoral Fellow working in Prof Jane Stout's Plant-Animal Interactions research Group, School of Natural Sciences, (TCD)
Dr Eileen Power is an Irish Research Council-funded Postdoctoral Fellow working in Prof Jane Stout's Plant-Animal Interactions research Group, School of Natural Sciences, (TCD)

Eileen Power

Insect pollinators are critically important to our ecosystems and our wellbeing.

Some 80pc of wild plants benefit from pollination by insects and in turn, other animals, plants, fungi and lichen, which are dependent on these plants for food and shelter, benefit too.

As well as the risk of many plants and animals becoming extinct without pollination we, as humans, would also be badly affected. Insect pollination, mainly by bees (but hoverflies help too), is necessary for 75pc of all crops that are used directly for our food.

In fact, the economic value of insect pollination has been estimated to be €153 billion per year globally. In Ireland, bees are worth at least €54 million per year, with €3.9 million of that for the oil-seed rape crop alone. Therefore, we are dependent on insect pollinators, because they ensure that the ecosystems we live in are healthy and robust and provide us with adequate food.

However, pollinators are declining at an alarming rate. There has been widespread loss of wild pollinators in Europe and North America, mainly as a result of agricultural intensification and habitat loss.

In many cases, bees simply have no flowers to visit for food and no safe places to nest because many of the wild places are gone. Of Ireland's 97 bee species, half have declined in numbers, 30pc are threatened with extinction and three have gone extinct. Domesticated honeybees have also declined by 59pc in the USA and 25pc in Europe.

So what can we do? Well, one thing that needs to be done is that we need to figure out where pollinators can get their food. At the moment we don't fully know why bees are declining in one part of the country while thriving in another. This means that, if we change how we use the land, we don't know how this will affect pollinators.

Therefore, I am creating a map - a flower map of Ireland. I'm using a map of different habitat types in Ireland, like grasslands, woodlands, bogs, sand-dunes, urban gardens, etc. and going out to these habitats to count flowers.

By combining this flower information for every habitat with other data about how attractive each flower species is for pollinators (some flowers look nice but don't have any food for pollinators!) I will create a flower heat-map of Ireland, showing which parts of Ireland are great, or not so great, for pollinators using different shades of the same colour - a bit like a temperature map you'd see on the weather.

This map will help us figure out in which areas of the country pollinators need our help. This will help prevent us from making bad decisions about how we use our land, now and in the future.

Dr Eileen Power is an Irish Research Council-funded Postdoctoral Fellow working in Prof Jane Stout's Plant-Animal Interactions research Group, School of Natural Sciences, (TCD)

Irish Independent

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