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Moths have a secret but vital role as pollinators in the night - University College London

Moths are important pollen transporters in English farmland and might play a role in supporting crop yields, according to a new UCL study.

The research, published in Biology Letters, shows that moth pollen transport networks are larger and more complex than networks for daytime pollinators.

The team found that moths transport pollen from a high number of plants also visited by bees, butterflies and hoverflies, but also interacted with plants not commonly visited by these insects.

The study also shows that pollen transport occurs most frequently on the moth’s ventral thorax (chest), rather than on the proboscis (tongue), allowing it to be easily transferred to other plants.

Lead author of the study, Dr Richard Walton (UCL Geography) said: “Nocturnal moths have an important but overlooked ecological role. They complement the work of daytime pollinators, helping to keep plant populations diverse and abundant. They also provide natural biodiversity back-up, and without them many more plant species and animals, such as birds and bats that rely on them for food, would be at risk.

“Previous studies of pollen transport among settling moths have focused on their proboscis. However, settling moths sit on the flower while feeding, with their often distinctly hairy bodies touching the flower’s reproductive organs. This happy accident helps pollen to be easily transported during subsequent flower visits.”

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