Main content area

Importance of forest fragments as pollinator habitat varies with season and guild

Proesmans, Willem, Bonte, Dries, Smagghe, Guy, Meeus, Ivan, Verheyen, Kris
Basic and applied ecology 2018
Syrphidae, agricultural land, bees, canopy, dead wood, edge effects, foraging, forests, ground vegetation, habitat fragmentation, habitats, landscapes, pollinators, reproduction, seasonal variation, species richness, spring, summer, surveys, Western European region
Large areas of Western Europe are covered with intensively managed agricultural land. In these landscapes, wild pollinators depend on fragments of semi-natural habitat for foraging or reproduction. Small forest patches are often the most abundant type of semi-natural habitat in these agricultural landscapes. We investigated the role these patches play in conserving the pollinator community in intensively managed agricultural landscapes.Our survey of the pollinator community in 16 forest fragments showed that the pollinator community in the edges of small forest fragments is strongly influenced by forest and forest edge characteristics. Old forest fragments with a well-developed herb layer had more diverse bee communities than recent forests or old forests without a herb layer, but overall lower activity-abundances, while sun exposure of the forest edges had a strong positive effect on pollinater activity-abundance in general. The hoverfly community had higher activity-abundances in forest edges with a higher flower-index, while saproxylic hoverflies were caught in higher numbers in sites with a higher forest cover in the surrounding landscape.We also detected a strong seasonal effect. The effects of herb layer cover on bee species richness and activity-abundance were much stronger in spring than in summer, while bee species richness was also strongly positively correlated with forest age in spring. A strong positive correlation between pollinator species richness and sun exposure was found in summer, after canopy closure.While the sampled forest edges harbour a rich and diverse pollinator community, cavity-nesting bees were very scarce. This is probably caused by the low amount of dead wood in the studied forest fragments.We conclude that small forest fragments can play an important role in conserving the pollinator community, especially bees and saproxylic hoverflies. The importance of these forest fragments is strongest in spring, when the herb layer provides foraging resources.