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Moths are effective pollinators. The loss of these insects can damage the ecosystem

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Moths can be as effective pollinators as bees. Research by British scientists shows that these insects visit many plant species and carry large amounts of pollen, but are sensitive to changes in the natural environment. Reducing their population can have serious effects on urban ecosystems.

Thanks to bees, we can enjoy many species of flowers and fruits. These beneficial insects are pollinators – they transfer pollen from plant anthers to their pistils, which enables plants to bear fruit and seeds. As a study published in the journal “Ecology Letter” shows, not only bees can play this role in ecosystems.

Trees, flowers and fruits

Scientists from the University of Sheffield decided to check how effective pollinators are moths. To do this, they caught 443 moths belonging to 67 species and collected samples of pollen that was stuck to their legs. The researchers then used DNA sequencing to identify which plants the pollen came from. The control group consisted of bees caught in the same area.

As it turned out, the moths carried more pollen than previously thought – it was found on the legs of 55 percent of the moths captured. A genetic study indicated that these animals visit many types of plants, including urban trees and fruit crops. The diversity of the species pollinated was comparable to that achieved by bees.

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‘We found that moths likely pollinate a range of plant species, including many wild ones, that are not pollinated by bees,’ explained Stuart Campbell, co-author of the study. ‘It is clear from our study that pollination is achieved through complex networks of insects and plants.

Agricultural tapeworm (Noctua pronuba) – pic. illustrativeAdobe Stock

The fight for the ecosystem

The results also showed that moths and bees caught in urban areas carried a less diverse set of pollen, said Emilie Ellis, lead author of the study. This is due to the fact that there are fewer plant species in urban areas, and many of them are alien species, which may discourage insects from interacting with flowers. This can threaten both insects and entire ecosystems, and due to the complex life cycle, moths are particularly sensitive to environmental changes.

‘People appreciate moths less than bees and often overlook them in terms of conservation,’ she said. ‘However, we see that efforts need to be made to raise awareness of the important role these insects play in ecosystems, especially since the populations of moth species have shrunk drastically over the last 50 years.’

The scientists explained that when planning green areas, care should be taken to ensure that the plantings are diverse and friendly to various insect species. This will make both plants and insects more resistant to the effects of climate change.

“We can learn which plant species are the best food sources for insects, and use that information to better care for all of our pollinators,” added Campbell.

Main photo source: Adobe Stock

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