Underpinning the ecological role of plant species for supporting insect-mediated ecosystem services

Supervisors

Felix Bianchi (FSE Wageningen UR)
Walter Rossing (FSE Wageningen UR)

Description

Insects can provide important ecosystem services (ES) in agro-ecosystems, including pollination and natural pest control. Maintaining effective populations of ES providers hinges on the availability of resources, which is intimately linked to plant species composition of managed and unmanaged habitats in the landscape. The role of (wild) plants includes provision of floral food resources (nectar and pollen), supporting alternative prey/host populations, and providing hibernation habitat. While the critical importance of a diverse landscape for ES has been amply demonstrated empirically, it has not been unravelled which plant species support the key arthropods providing ES (e.g. hoverflies, parasitoids, bees, bumble bees, carabid beetles). The lack of a mechanistic understanding on the ecological processes underlying ES hamper the implementation of habitat management for ES in land use practice. This project will focus on the relationship between food resources provided by wild plants and the spatial and temporal distribution of pest control and pollination services.

Possible thesis subjects

The project involves literature review and the construction of a database of Dutch plant species delivering food resources for bees, bumblebees, parasitoids, hoverflies and lacewings. At this moment there is a database available containing 83 plant species, which summarizes information on flowering times, nectar and pollen availability, as well as associated aphid and Lepidopteran insect species. However, the database needs to be expanded and further refined. For instance, the current database distinguishes two classes of flower corolla depth (deep vs. shallow). However, this classification is too crude to make a meaningful assessment of the nectar availability for above mentioned beneficial insect groups. The database construction can be combined with mapping of functional plant species in the Hoeksche Waard and associated spatial analysis. The database and maps provide novel and important information on the availability of plant-derived food resources for beneficial insects, which is essential for sustaining the ecosystem services of natural pest control and pollination.

Experiences gained

  • Literature review
  • Database management
  • (Spatial) data analysis
  • Writing skills.