Rothamsted Research

where knowledge grows

Members of our group study the movement and ecology of insect pollinators in agricultural landscapes and the consequences for their population dynamics and crop and wildflower pollination.

Our facilities allow us to use a variety of techniques including harmonic radar, tethered-flight systems and large-scale field sampling programmes.

We work closely with the Insect Migration and Spatial Ecology Group within the Agro-Ecology Department, and contribute to the 'Movement and Spatial Ecology' work-package of the Delivering Sustainable Systems ISP.

Current Projects

Stephan Wolf is investigating the impact of Deformed Wing Virus and the pathogen, Nosema ceranae, on honey and bumblebees. This work is part of a much larger project, Emergent Bee Diseases: impact and mitigation of emergent diseases on major UK insect pollinators 1 funded under the Insect Pollinators Initiative.

PhD student, Jonathan Carruthers, is researching nutritional importance of different mass-flowering crop varieties as early spring forage for pollinators.

The BBSRC-funded BumblePop project3 , started in spring 2013, is using a systems approach to develop and validate models able to predict bumblebee nest density, distribution and survival in arable landscapes.

During the project investigating honeybee population dynamics in response to multiple stressors 2 we collected empirical data on interactions between disease and availability of forage in the landscape and the effects on colony development and survival, and built an individual-based, spatio-temporal landscape model of a honeybee colony that predicts the effects of differing levels of disease, quantity and quality of forage on colony development and survival.

Research Highlights

Our work has shown how insect pollination of wild plants in farmland is limited and can have implications for adequate food source for farmland birds. We have also demonstrated that pollination of wild plants in arable farmland can be enhanced by the presence of a flowering crop, such as oilseed rape or field beans. We have highlighted the importance of domestic gardens to nesting and foraging bumblebee pollinators and the process of pollination.

Not all our work has focussed on hymenopteran pollinators. When studying the effects on butterflies of different types of crops, we reported that butterflies tended to be more abundant around the biomass crops, Miscanthus and short rotation willow coppice, than around arable crops. We have also learned that the management of a type of crop can influence the abundance of butterflies visiting the field: there was a tendency for more butterflies to be recorded in and around conventional crops than genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant crops.

We use harmonic radar to assess the flights of insect pollinators in the landscape. Our pioneering work on orienteering, searching and foraging flights in bees is well established and recently, we have discovered that bumblebees can rapidly develop and establish new efficient routes to sources of forage when the spatial configuration of flowers is changed.


  • a bespoke field laboratory
  • modular observation hives
  • harmonic radar
  • tethered-flight systems
  • pollination cages
  • flight room
  • CE behaviour rooms
  • on-site experimental farm
  • access to local farms
  • full beekeeping equipment, including honey extractor
  • 30+ honeybee hives across 4 home- & 4 out-apiaries

Harmonic Radar

Harmonic radar has been designed to study the behaviour of low-flying insects over relatively large spatial scales.

Science Team

Group Leader
Alison Haughton PhD

Current Staff
Sue Bird
Jonathan Carruthers
Steve Kennedy
Jason Lim PhD
Jennifer Swain
Stephan Wolf PhD
Trish Wells PhD

External Collaborators

Queen Mary, Universyf of London: Lars Chittka

Lund University: Alejandra Vasquez and Tobias Olofsson

Martin Luther University: Halle-Wittenberg, Robert Paxton and Dino McMahon

The University of Dublin: James Murray

Royal Holloway, University of London: Mark Brown, Vincent Jansen, John Bryden and Matthias Fürst

University of Exeter: Juliet Osborne

University of Newcastle: Geraldine Wright

University of Sussex: Dave Goulson

University of Warwick: Dave Chandler

UFZ Leipzig: Volker Grimm