Cover stories: Volume 109 Issue 8

The cover image for our August issue shows a female sharp-collared furrow bee visiting the flowers of a Mediterranean shrub. This image relates to the research article: Individual-based plant–pollinator networks are structured by phenotypic and microsite plant traits by Arroyo-Correa, Bartomeus, & Jordano.

Lead author, Blanca Arroyo-Correa, and photographer, Curro Molina, discuss the biodiversity of Doñana National Park and share their tips for capturing stunning images of plants and their pollinators. This post emphasises the important role that photography can play in promoting ecological research and inspiring appreciation for the natural world.

Cover image: A female Lasioglossum malachurum (Halictidae) visiting the flowers of Halimium halimifolium (Cistaceae), a widespread Mediterranean shrub species. This photograph was taken in the stabilized dunes of Doñana National Park, located in the Atlantic coast of Southern Spain. Photograph by Curro Molina.

In the Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, at the area of confluence between Mediterranean and Atlantic regions, lies Doñana National Park, which is considered to be one of the largest biological reserves and of the most important wetlands in Europe.

Doñana National Park is a vast area of coastal beaches, sand dunes, forests and freshwater marshes. The highest and driest ridges consist of stabilized dune slopes that are covered by Mediterranean shrublands. This type of vegetation is known locally as “monte blanco” in Spanish, so named because of the greyish light green tones of Halimium halimifolium plants, the dominant species. This was the study species in our recently published paper and the species that is featured in the cover of Journal of Ecology’s August 2021 issue.

In Doñana National Park, the mobile dune system (left) consists of multiple sand fronts that separate the marsh and the sea, while the stabilized dunes (right) extend northwards from the coast and are covered by Mediterranean shrublands. Photo Credit: Blanca Arroyo-Correa (left) and Curro Molina (right).

While Doñana is famous for its birds, it is also home to huge numbers of insect pollinators. Most of the plant species occurring in the stabilized dunes of this area need these pollinators to produce seeds. The attractive, large yellow flowers of Halimium halimifolium are visited by a wide range of pollinator species. Lasioglossum bees, like the one visiting the flower in the cover image, were one of the most abundant pollinators of this plant species in our study area. Overall, it is estimated that there are around two hundred bee species in Doñana, besides all the beetles, hover flies, bee flies, butterflies or wasps that can also act as pollinators. Yet in this natural area, despite being a biodiversity hotspot, the true number of pollinator species is not known – mainly due to inadequate funding for taxonomy, which prevents us from advancing our understanding of local diversity.

Viewing the lives of pollinators through the lens of a camera can provide additional unique insights into their fascinating shapes, colours and behaviours. Although it can take a long time for the pollinator “model” to get into the right position, the photographer’s tenacity pays off in the final product. The most important piece of equipment for macro photography is the lens. An appropriate lens should reach a magnification (i.e., the ratio between an object’s size when projected on the camera sensor versus its real size) of 1:1 or higher. Additionally, to reduce the risk of spooking pollinators it would be necessary to use a long focus lens (e.g., 105mm) that increases the working distance. With this basic photography gear, one can begin crouching down to capture the most informative and artful close-up shots of pollinators mating, nesting or visiting flowers.

Different bee species visiting some of the most common plant species in the Mediterranean shrublands of Doñana National Park. (A) Seladonia smaragdula on Rosmarinus officinalis, (B) Bombus terrestris on Halimium halimifolium, (C) Anthophora bimaculata on Cistus albidus, (D) Flavipanurgus venustus on Cistus albidus, (E) Eucera codinai on Halimium calycinum, (F) Megachile rotundata on Rosmarinus officinalis. Photo credit: Curro Molina.

Photographs illustrating the breathtaking diversity of the natural world can serve the purpose of changing people’s perception of ecological science. Photos have the ability to represent the curiosity and motivation behind our research, which ultimately gives it reason. It is because of this that ecologists should always consider photography as a tool to communicate the beauty of science and discovery, and the importance of preserving our natural wonders.

Blanca Arroyo-Correa and Curro Molina Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC), Seville, Spain

You can read the full research article here: Individual-based plant–pollinator networks are structured by phenotypic and microsite plant traits 

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