Turnover in floral composition explains species diversity and temporal stability in the nectar supply of urban residential gardens

Nicholas E. Tew*, Katherine C.R. Baldock, Ian P. Vaughan, Stephanie Bird, Jane Memmott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
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Residential gardens are a valuable habitat for insect pollinators worldwide, but differences in individual gardening practices substantially affect their floral composition. It is important to understand how the floral resource supply of gardens varies in both space and time so we can develop evidence-based management recommendations to support pollinator conservation in towns and cities.

We surveyed 59 residential gardens in the city of Bristol, UK, at monthly intervals from March to October. For each of 472 garden surveys, we combined floral abundances with nectar sugar data to quantify the nectar production of each garden, investigating the magnitude, temporal stability, and diversity and composition of garden nectar supplies.

We found that individual gardens differ markedly in the quantity of nectar sugar they supply (from 2 to 1,662 g), and nectar production is higher in more affluent neighbourhoods, but not in larger gardens. Nectar supply peaks in July (mid-summer), when more plant taxa are in flower, but temporal patterns vary among individual gardens. At larger spatial scales, temporal variability averages out through the portfolio effect, meaning insect pollinators foraging across many gardens in urban landscapes have access to a relatively stable and continuous supply of nectar through the year.

Turnover in species composition among gardens leads to an extremely high overall plant richness, with 636 taxa recorded flowering. The nectar supply is dominated by non-natives, which provide 91% of all nectar sugar, while shrubs are the main plant life form contributing to nectar production (58%). Two-thirds of nectar sugar is only available to relatively specialised pollinators, leaving just one-third that is accessible to all.

Synthesis and applications. By measuring nectar supply in residential gardens, our study demonstrates that pollinator-friendly management, affecting garden quality, is more important than the size of a garden, giving every gardener an opportunity to contribute to pollinator conservation in urban areas. For gardeners interested in increasing the value of their land to foraging pollinators, we recommend planting nectar-rich shrubs with complementary flowering periods and prioritising flowers with an open structure in late summer and autumn.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-811
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number3
Early online date4 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council through the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (NE/L002434/1) and by the Royal Horticultural Society. We thank the members of the public who gave us permission to survey their gardens, field assistant Joanne Morten for help quantifying the nectar production of plants in the field and Mathilde Baude for methodological advice and data sharing.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Applied Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society.


  • beta diversity
  • floral resources
  • garden
  • nectar
  • phenology
  • pollinator
  • pollinator conservation


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