Nav: Home

The nocturnal pollinators: Scientists reveal the secret life of moths

September 18, 2018

Scientists have discovered that moths may play a much broader role as plant pollinators than previously suspected.

A joint study from the Universities of York, Newcastle and Hull suggests moths have an important but overlooked ecological role - dispensing pollen over large distances under the cover of darkness.

The team of scientists, working with collaborators from Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, observed moths at a farm in East Yorkshire, using a new method of pollen detection called DNA metabarcoding to identify the different types of pollen they carried.

The study revealed that moths supplement the day-time work of bees and other pollinating insects, suggesting that plants with the capacity to be pollinated by both moths and bees may be at an advantage.

Lead author Dr Callum Macgregor, from the University of York's Department of Biology, said: "Using cutting-edge techniques to distinguish between different pollen types allowed us to gain new insight into the species of plants which are important nectar resources for moths - and therefore might benefit from pollination after dark.

"Over half of the plant species we detected were not previously known to be visited by moths. It was particularly interesting that moths were carrying pollen from many of the same plant species that are visited by bees, hoverflies and butterflies."

Pollen grains from crops such as peas, soybean and oil-seed rape were detected on multiple moths, despite a lack of previous evidence to suggest that moths are beneficial to farmers.

Dr Macgregor added: "Our study highlights the fact that we need to think seriously about the benefits of moths to plants and agricultural systems. While bees are excellent pollinators, they will only travel within the local environment of the nest.

"Moths appear to complement the work of bees and can carry pollen over greater distances as they don't have the same ties to a particular part of the landscape. Potentially, this might help to prevent inbreeding among plants."

The new approach revealed 35% of all the moths captured were carrying pollen and moths from the Noctuidae family were found to be the most prolific pollinators.

The researchers also detected pollen from popular garden plants like privet and Verbena. Many gardeners choose nectar-rich flowers to help declining populations of bees and butterflies, and these results suggest that moths are also likely to benefit.

Project supervisor Dr Darren Evans, from Newcastle University's School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, said: "Using new methods to analyse pollen enabled us to learn much more about our undervalued nocturnal ecosystems.

"The results demonstrate for the first time that moths could even pollinate some agricultural crops. This highlights a need for more research into the role of moths as ecosystem service providers."
-end-


University of York

Related Bees Articles:

Two pesticides approved for use in US harmful to bees
A previously banned insecticide, which was approved for agricultural use last year in the United States, is harmful for bees and other beneficial insects that are crucial for agriculture, and a second pesticide in widespread use also harms these insects.
Native bees also facing novel pandemic
There is growing evidence that another ''pandemic'' has been infecting bees around the world for the past two decades, and is spreading: a fungal pathogen known as Nosema.
Bees grooming each other can boost colony immunity
Honeybees that specialise in grooming their nestmates (allogroomers) to ward off pests play a central role in the colony, finds a new UCL and University of Florence study published in Scientific Reports.
Microalgae food for honey bees
A microscopic algae ('microalgae') could provide a complete and sustainably sourced supplemental diet to boost the robustness of managed honey bees, according to research just published by Agricultural Research Service scientists in the journal Apidologie.
Bees point to new evolutionary answers
Evolutionary biology aims to explain how new species arise and evolve to occupy myriad niches -- but it is not a singular or simplistic story.
Quantifying objects: bees recognize that six is more than four
A new study at the University of Cologne proves that insects can perform basic numerical cognition tasks.
Prescribed burns benefit bees
Freshly burned longleaf pine forests have more than double the total number of bees and bee species than similar forests that have not burned in over 50 years, according to new research from North Carolina State University.
Insecticides are becoming more toxic to honey bees
Researchers discover that neonicotinoid seed treatments are driving a dramatic increase in insecticide toxicity in U.S. agricultural landscapes, despite evidence that these treatments have little to no benefit in many crops.
Neonicotinoids: Despite EU moratorium, bees still at risk
Since 2013, a European Union moratorium has restricted the application of three neonicotinoids to crops that attract bees because of the harmful effects they are deemed to have on these insects.
Bees 'surf' atop water
Ever see a bee stuck in a pool? He's surfing to escape.
More Bees News and Bees Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Sound And Silence
Sound surrounds us, from cacophony even to silence. But depending on how we hear, the world can be a different auditory experience for each of us. This hour, TED speakers explore the science of sound. Guests on the show include NPR All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly, neuroscientist Jim Hudspeth, writer Rebecca Knill, and sound designer Dallas Taylor.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there's been a lot of debate about how much power the Supreme Court should really have. We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.