Mass Seasonal Migrations of Hoverflies Provide Extensive Pollination and Crop Protection Services.


Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE, UK. Electronic address: [Email]


Despite the fact that migratory insects dominate aerial bioflows in terms of diversity, abundance, and biomass [1-6], 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 [7-10] 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, 13-19], our results demonstrate that migrant hoverflies are key to maintaining essential ecosystem services.


Episyrphus balteatus,Eupeodes corolla,aeroecology,aphids,biocontrol,hoverfly,insect migration,radar entomology,syrphidae,