New study reveals that pollinating insects on Terceira Island (Azores) have adapted to habitats created by human activity

A study now published, by researchers of cE3c – Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes and the Azorean Biodiversity Group (GBA), shows that populations of pollinating insects on Terceira Island (Azores) are not being affected by changes in land use caused by human activities. This result, contrary to what was expected, implies that these insects have adapted to new habitats.


Islands gather enormous levels of biodiversity and, at the same time, are ecosystems that are very sensitive to environmental changes. The changes in land use by human activities, such as the conversion of native forests to agricultural lands and exotic forests, have been responsible for the loss and degradation of habitats and the extinction of several species in the last century.

Little is known about the impact of the change in land use on populations of pollinator insects, which are responsible for a fundamental process in ecosystems – plant reproduction. The study now published is the first of this kind to be carried out in Terceira Island, and one of the first in the world for oceanic islands.

For two years, the researchers observed pollinator insects at selected sites on Terceira Island, corresponding to habitats with different levels of human disturbance: from native forest habitats, to exotic forest or land with different levels of grazing. The researchers hypothesized that habitats with greater human disturbance would exhibit lower abundance and diversity of species of pollinator insects.

However, contrary to their expectations, they verified that there are no significant differences in the distribution and abundance of these insects among different habitats on the island. That is, there is a prevalence of endemic and native species in the communities of pollinator insects whether we consider forest habitats, exotic forest, or lands with different intensities of grazing.

Ana Picanço, researcher at cE3c and Azorean Biodiversity Group and first author of the study, explains: “These results imply that the pollinating insects of Terceira Island have successfully adapted to new habitats and provide ecosystem services essential to the agricultural systems of this island. It also means that in the absence of competing alien pollinator species, native and endemic pollinator insects may be facilitating the proliferation of exotic or invasive plant species”

In the continuation of this study, the researchers are evaluating the impact of this result on the complexity of the pollinator networks in the different types of habitats on Terceira Island, as well as ecosystem services on the island in terms of agricultural production.

Picanço, A., Rigal, F., Matthews, T.J., Cardoso, P. & Borges, P.A.V. (2017). Impact of land-use change on flower-visiting insect communities on an oceanic island. Insect Conservation and Diversity, DOI: 10.1111/icad.12216