Pollinators in Urban and Suburban Gardens

The vast majority flowering plants rely on insects to reproduce, set seed and develop fruits.  From native plants in our parks and protected lands to cucumbers and melons in our backyard garden - insect pollinators are critical to diverse plant communities and to healthy food systems.

Despite the importance of native pollinators to our ecosystems and our economies, we know surprisingly little about their basic ecology. Several recent review papers suggest that some pollinator populations are in drastic decline. Cultivated honey bees face a suite of parasites, pathogens and other stresses that have contributed to their decline.  The decline in bumble bees has been associated with declines in floral abundance and diversity that come with agricultural intensification (Goulson et al. 2008).  Declines in butterfly species have similarly been associated with habitat fragmentation and degradation, as a result of landscape development.

Besides documented declines for these taxa, we know surprisingly little about most of the 3,500 species of bee or 575 species of butterfly in the United States.  Even less is known about the ecology of the these insects, as well as pollinating flies, in urban and surburban landscapes.

Habitat fragmentation and removal are unavoidably linked to urbanization and suburbanization, and these factors are no doubt detrimental to many animal species. However, the proliferation of ornamental, flowering plants within urban / suburban gardens and parks suggests that these habitats may actually be beneficial to insect pollinators through the provisioning of nectar and pollen resources. Furthermore, development often opens up previously shaded forests to sun-loving pollinators and may provide potential nest sites in the form of stone walls or wooden fences.

We study the potentially opposing effects of habitat loss due to development and local increases in resource availability due to ornamental landscapes on insect pollinators (particularly bees). Most of these studies have been conducted in New York City and surrounding suburbs.  However, we continue to study the urban ecology of insect pollinators in Oregon gardens and parks.

By furthering our understanding of how landscape level greenspace, ornamental plants and nest site availability in urban landscapes influence the ecology of insects pollinators, we will be able to recommend management techniques that promote the simultaneous and beneficial coexistence of people and pollinators.

Published Outcomes of this Research

Matteson, K. C. and G. A. Langellotto. 2011. Small scale additions of native plants fail to increase pollinator diversity in urban gardens. Insect Conversation and Diversity. 4: 89-98.

Matteson, K. C. and Langellotto, G. A. 2010. Determinates of inner city butterfly and bee species richness. Urban Ecosystems 13: 333-347.

Matteson, K. C. and G. A. Langellotto. 2009. Bumble bee abundance in New York City community gardens: implications for urban agriculture. Cities and the Environment. 2(1):article 5, 12 pp. http://escholarship.bc.edu/cate/vol2/iss1/5.

Werrell, P.A., G. A. Langellotto, S. U. Morath and K. C. Matteson. 2009. The Influence of Garden Size and Floral Cover on Pollen Deposition in Urban Community Gardens. Cities and the Environment. 2(1):article 6, 16 pp.

Fetridge, E., J. S. Ascher and G. A. Langellotto. 2008. The bee fauna of residential gardens in a suburb of New York City (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 101: 1067-1077.

Matteson, K. C., J. S. Ascher and G. A. Langellotto. 2008. Richness and composition of the bee fauna of urban gardens in New York City (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 101: 140-150.

References Cited

Goulson, D., G. C. Lye and B. Darvill.  2008.  Decline and conservation of bumble bees.  Annual Review of Entomology 53: 191-208.




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