Who are the pollinators in Ireland?
Although a range of animals visit flowers to collect food (nectar and/or pollen) the most important pollinators in Ireland are insects; particularly bees and hoverflies.
Globally, bees are the most important pollinator because they visit flowers to collect food for their larvae, as well as feeding exclusively on flowers as adults. Hence the entire life-cycle of bees is dependent on interactions with flowering plants. Of the 100 crops that provide 90% of the world’s food supply, 71 are pollinated by bees.
While adult hoverflies feed mainly on nectar and pollen, the larvae of many species are voracious predators of aphids and other pests. As a result, hoverflies are important as they contribute to both pollination and pest control.
In Ireland, there are 98 different species of bee, including the familiar honeybee (1 species) and bumblebee (21 species). The remaining species are solitary, meaning they do not form colonies. Only the honeybee produces commercially extractable honey. There are 180 species of hoverfly in Ireland.
The honeybee has long been domesticated by humans and managed for honey production and/or crop pollination. In the last 20 years, bumblebees have been available commercially for use in covered (glasshouse) crops. Recent collapses in honeybees due to a range of factors have caused widespread concern with regards to crop pollination, particularly in North America. Global honeybee declines have highlighted the risks associated with the reliance on a single pollinating species. Furthermore, recent studies in the UK have shown that the honeybee is not as important as a crop pollinator as previously believed, and it makes up only a small fraction of insect visits to flowers in Irish agricultural systems.
The importance of wild, non-managed bees as pollinators of not only crops, but also wild plants is becoming more and more apparent. Studies have shown that a diversity of pollinator types is important for maximizing pollination.
To provide stable pollination services for our crops, crop wild relatives (potential future crops) and other wild plants, we need to maintain both wild and managed pollinators in the landscape.