Autumn 2017 Results

Many thanks to Manuel Lequerica for analysing the data and writing our results post!

Once more, the Wild Pollinator count was a big success thanks to all the participants who shared their observations with us. For the autumn 2017 count, we received an autumn record of 310 submissions from 112 localities including every state and territory in Australia. For the first time, we had participants from Northern Territory, which is an exciting indicator of how much we have grown since the project started!

More than 2300 insects were counted (around 400 more than on the last autumn count). As usual, we excluded ants from the count, as they are most often nectar thieves rather than effective pollinators. Other insects and vertebrates that were recorded without making direct contact with the plants were also excluded from the count.

As usual, honey bees were the most abundant visitors, with almost 1300 occurrences, followed by all other bees. Although the number of butterflies, moths, and wasps this year was not as high as on the 2016 Autumn count, the number of blue banded bees, beetles, hoverflies, and other flies was much higher than on any of the previous Autumn counts.

For the first time, a Bumble bee was recorded in Tasmania. This exotic pollinator was introduced to the island from Europe, and until today it has not been recorded in mainland. It is important to monitor the presence of bumble bees – and other exotic species – because their potential effects on native fauna and flora could be negative.

Wild pollinator Number counted
European honey bee 1236
Blue banded bee (native) 167
Other native bee 371
Ladybird beetles 37
Butterflies and moths 115
Hoverflies 95
Other flies 174
European wasp 7
Other wasps 41

As seen in the previous Autumn counts, the proportion of native and honey bees was very different from the spring count. On this count, only 23% of the bees were native (instead of the 44% recorded during the 2016 spring count), while the remaining 77% were honey bees. This interesting pattern could be explained by either of two reasons, or an interaction of both. Firstly, many native bees prefer higher temperatures, thus their activity levels are much higher during the warmest months of the year. On the other hand, the European honey bee is adapted to more temperate climates, which allows it to remain active during the colder months of the year. Secondly, more flowers bloom during spring, which can be translated as an increase in food (nectar and pollen) availability for the native pollinators, which are adapted to the flowering patterns of Australian plants.

The number of plant species observed dropped from 180, in the spring count, to 81 on the 2017 autumn. This result reflects the decrease in floral activity as the days shorten and the temperature reduces while the southern hemisphere approaches winter. Not surprisingly, 63% of the observed plants were exotic, which may be adapted to colder climates (if they have a temperate origin) and only 30 species (the remaining 37%) were native. The most commonly observed native plants were Grevillea, Banksia, and Melaleuca; while the most frequent exotic ones included mostly culinary herbs like Basil, Rosemary, and Salvia. Despite the higher abundance of exotic plants, most native bees were observed visiting native plants, although not exclusively.

We are very pleased with the quality of the data received by the participants. Valuable annotations on weather conditions, behaviour of pollinators, and pictures complemented the basic information about pollinators and the plants they visited. Another fantastic thing to see was people submitting zero values in the count. This type of data is very valuable for us, because it helps us understand the selection criteria of insects, and allows us to make inferences on insect flower preferences.

Many thanks to everyone who participated on the 2017 autumn edition of the Wild Pollinator Count. Some of the fantastic pictures that were submitted have been uploaded to our Flickr page, so click on the link and have a look at all the astonishing diversity of winged friends and their plant allies! Stay tuned for updates, and don´t forget to check our hashtag #ozpollinators on Twitter throughout the year.

See you at the spring Wild Pollinator Count which will take place between November 12 and 19.

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