Moths need good neighbours too

Ever wonder if wildlife gardening works? Grantham Scholar Emilie Ellis‘ research provides some of the first evidence about the role of domestic gardens on urban moth diversity.

And Emilie’s results suggest that when it comes to wildlife gardening, collaboration is key.

You can read the full paper here and find a summary below.

Background on back gardens

Gardens make up an enormous amount of urban green space in the UK. For example, domestic gardens make up 24% of land in London. So it stands to reason that if gardens could be made to work for the environment, their impact could be a big one. And the argument for ‘wildlife-friendly’ gardening is well known. People try to make gardens biodiversity refuges, wildlife corridors or ‘stepping stones’. Some hope they can provide supplementary habitats for urban wildlife.

However, the actual impact of gardens – and other small greenspaces – is understudied.

Emilie doing fieldwork with moths. We see Emilie in someone's back garden with a small moth trap.
Emilie Ellis with a small moth trap.

Emilie’s research: gardens and biodiversity

Emilie set out to fill some of the gaps in our knowledge about gardens and their role in biodiversity. Further, she wanted to provide evidence that supports conservation initiatives that focus on co-operative management actions of householders and communities.

Her subject was moths and their response to habitat complexity, both within and surrounding gardens.

Why Moths?

Moths are a key component of urban ecosystems, being important pollinators, herbivores and also food for higher trophic levels. Further, their life cycle, high habitat specificity and mobility result in rapid responses to environmental changes.

Also, variation in the structure of species-rich moth assemblages can be easily linked to habitat and landscape changes in vegetation induced by human development.

All of this taken together means moths can be used to assess the potential of different habitats to support biodiversity within domestic gardens.

Cooperation is key

Emilie’s results show that moth assemblages were influenced by complex habitats. Increasing levels of the variable shrubs and decreasing levels of artificial surfaces had particular effect. But this effect was only seen at a scale that extended beyond the garden boundary to include the surrounding area.

So unfortunately, moth assemblages are not influenced by either garden size or habitat quality within individual urban domestic gardens.

However, this research highlights that if neighbours work together to promote good habitats, they could improve urban biodiversity. Gardens managed as a network of patches rather than individual units could have a big impact on the species who live in them.


Read: Moth assemblages within urban domestic gardens respond positively to habitat complexity, but only at a scale that extends beyond the garden boundary.


Main image shows some of the moths Emilie found during her research.