Road verges as hotspots

Phillips, B.B., Gaston, K.J., Bullock, J.M. & Osborne, J.L. 2019. Road verges are pollinator hotspots in agricultural landscapes, but are diminished by heavy traffic and summer verge cutting. Journal of Applied Ecology 56, 2316-2327.

  1. Supporting pollinators in agricultural landscapes is important for reversing their global decline. Road verges and hedges are used by pollinators for feeding and reproduction, but few studies consider entire pollinator communities, and it remains unclear how they are distributed across adjacent verges, hedges and fields, or how they are affected by traffic and verge cutting.
  2. We surveyed flowers and pollinators, using transect counts and pan traps, to explore the role of road verges and their associated hedges in supporting pollinators in an agricultural landscape in southwest England, and the impacts of traffic and verge cutting. At 19 sites, we surveyed the road verge (verge edge and verge centre), the verge hedge (both sides), a field hedge and the field interior.
  3. Road verges and hedges had a much greater flower abundance, flower species richness and pollinator abundance than field interiors. Verge hedges had far less woody cover than field hedges, but greater flower species richness.
  4. There were fewer pollinators along verge edges (next to roads) than along verge centres (2–11 m from roads) and fewer pollinators in road verges next to busier roads.
  5. Road verges were generally cut once (in summer), and cuttings were never removed. There were substantially fewer flowers and pollinators in road verges that had been cut, even though surveys often took place many weeks after cutting.
  6. Synthesis and applications. Road verges and their associated hedges can provide hotspots of resources for pollinators in agricultural landscapes, but their capacity to do so is reduced by heavy traffic and summer verge cutting. We recommend that beneficial management for pollinators should prioritize wider road verges (at least 2 m wide), roads with less traffic, and areas away from the immediate vicinity of the road. Where possible, verge cutting should not be carried out during peak flowering times.