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Mass seasonal migrations of hoverflies provide extensive pollination and crop protection services

Mass seasonal migrations of hoverflies provide extensive pollination and crop protection services

Wotton, Karl R., Gao, Boya, Menz, Myles H.M., Morris, Roger K.A., Ball, Stuart G., Lim, Ka S., Reynolds, Don R. ORCID: 0000-0001-8749-7491, Hu, Gao and Chapman, Jason W. (2019) Mass seasonal migrations of hoverflies provide extensive pollination and crop protection services. Current Biology, 29 (13). 2167-2173.e5. ISSN 0960-9822 (Print), 1879-0445 (Online) (doi:

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Despite the fact that migratory insects dominate aerial bioflows in terms of diversity, abundance, and biomass [1, 2, 3, 5, 6], the migration patterns of most species, and the effects of their annual fluxes between high- and low-latitude regions, are poorly known. One important group of long-range migrants that remain understudied is a suite of highly beneficial species of hoverfly in the tribe Syrphini, which we collectively term “migrant hoverflies.” Adults are key pollinators [7, 8, 9, 10] and larvae are significant biocontrol agents of aphid crop pests [11], and thus, it is important to quantify the scale of their migrations and the crucial ecosystem services they provide with respect to energy, nutrient, and biomass transport; regulation of crop pests; and pollen transfer. Such assessments cannot be made by sporadic observations of mass arrivals at ground level, because hoverflies largely migrate unnoticed high above ground. We used insect-monitoring radars [12] to show that up to 4 billion hoverflies (80 tons of biomass) travel high above southern Britain each year in seasonally adaptive directions. The long-range migrations redistribute tons of essential nutrients (nitrogen [N] and phosphorus [P]) and transport billions of pollen grains between Britain and Europe, and locally produced populations consume 6 trillion aphids and make billions of flower visits. Migrant hoverfly abundance fluctuated greatly between years, but there was no evidence of a population trend during the 10-year study period. Considering that many beneficial insects are seriously declining [7, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19], our results demonstrate that migrant hoverflies are key to maintaining essential ecosystem services.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: radar entomology; aeroecology; Episyrphus balteatus; Eupeodes corolla; syrphidae; biocontrol; aphids; hoverfly; insect migration
Subjects: S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Agriculture, Health & Environment Department
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2019 15:46
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
Selected for REF2021: None

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