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Moths complement bumblebee pollination of red clover: A case for day-and-night insect surveillance

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Recent decades have seen a surge in awareness about insect pollinator declines. Social bees receive the most attention, but most flower-visiting species are lesser known, non-bee insects. Nocturnal flower visitors, e.g. moths, are especially difficult to observe and largely ignored in pollination studies. Clearly, achieving balanced monitoring of all pollinator taxa represents a major scientific challenge. Here, we use time-lapse cameras for season-wide, day-And-night pollinator surveillance of Trifolium pratense (L.; red clover) in an alpine grassland. We reveal the first evidence to suggest that moths, mainly Noctua pronuba (L.; large yellow underwing), pollinate this important wildflower and forage crop, providing 34% of visits (bumblebees: 61%). This is a remarkable finding; moths have received no recognition throughout a century of T. pratense pollinator research. We conclude that despite a non-negligible frequency and duration of nocturnal flower visits, nocturnal pollinators of T. pratense have been systematically overlooked. We further show how the relationship between visitation and seed set may only become clear after accounting for moth visits. As such, population trends in moths, as well as bees, could profoundly affect T. pratense seed yield. Ultimately, camera surveillance gives fair representation to non-bee pollinators and lays a foundation for automated monitoring of species interactions in future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220187
JournalBiology Letters
Volume18
Issue7
Number of pages5
ISSN1744-9561
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

    Research areas

  • biodiversity, computer vision, conservation, entomology, Lepidoptera, phenology

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