Grazing reduces bee abundance and diversity in saltmarshes by suppressing flowering of key plant species

Davidson, Kate E.; Fowler, Mike S.; Skov, Martin W.; Forman, Daniel; Alison, Jamie; Botham, Marc; Beaumont, Nicola; Griffin, John N.. 2020 Grazing reduces bee abundance and diversity in saltmarshes by suppressing flowering of key plant species. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 291, 106760. 10, pp.

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Global declines in pollinator populations and associated services make it imperative to identify and sensitively manage valuable habitats. Coastal habitats such as saltmarshes can support extensive flowering meadows, but their importance for pollinators, and how this varies with land-use intensity, is poorly understood. We hypothesised that saltmarshes provide important bee foraging habitat, and that livestock grazing either suppresses or enhances its value by reducing the abundance - or increasing the diversity - of flowering plants. To test these hypotheses, we surveyed 11 saltmarshes in Wales (UK) under varying grazing management (long-term ungrazed, extensively grazed, intensively grazed) over three summers and investigated causal pathways linking grazing intensity with bee abundance and diversity using a series of linear mixed models. We also compared observed bee abundances to 11 common terrestrial habitats using national survey data. Grazing reduced bee abundance and richness via reductions in the flower cover of the two key food plants: sea aster Tripolium pannonicum and sea lavender Limonium spp. Grazing also increased flowering plant richness, but the positive effects of flower richness did not compensate for the negative effects of reduced flower cover on bees. Bee abundances were approximately halved in extensively grazed marshes (relative to ungrazed) and halved again in intensively grazed marshes. Saltmarsh flowers were primarily visited by honeybees Apis mellifera and bumblebees Bombus spp. in mid and late summer. Compared to other broad habitat types in Wales, ungrazed saltmarshes ranked highly for honeybees and bumblebees in July-August, but were relatively unimportant for solitary bees. Intensively grazed saltmarshes were amongst the least valuable habitats for all bee types. Under appropriate grazing management, saltmarshes provide a valuable and previously overlooked foraging habitat for bees. The strong effects of livestock grazing identified here are likely to extend geographically given that both livestock grazing and key grazing-sensitive plants are widespread in European saltmarshes. We recommend that long-term ungrazed saltmarshes are protected from grazing, and that grazing is maintained at extensive levels on grazed marshes. In this way, saltmarshes can provide forage for wild and managed bee populations and support ecosystem services.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Biodiversity (Science Area 2017-)
Soils and Land Use (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0167-8809
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: Apis, Bombus, grassland management, livestock, pollinators
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 23 Jan 2020 10:14 +0 (UTC)

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