A refuge for bumblebees in central Madrid

The amount of green space in cities is one of the most accurate indicators of the wellness of their inhabitants. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that there should be at least nine square meters of public parks, gardens, or green space per inhabitant to help improve quality of life, regulate noise, and clean the air, among other benefits.

Another huge benefit of these green spaces is that they promote wildlife by protecting the biodiversity of different ecosystems. Cities such as Vitoria and Barcelona, where the Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan 2020 is already being implemented, have recognized the value of their natural spaces and consider maintaining and improving biodiversity a key aspect to prioritize in urban development.

Madrid’s Parque del Oeste is another concrete example, with protected safe havens for the conservation and reproduction of the Iberian painted frog (Discoglossus galganoi), an amphibian at risk of extinction.

New sustainable architecture modelsalso play a part in this environmental conservation. A clear example is the open area at the Repsol Campus. It is home to numerous strawberry trees, helping to recover some species which are fundamental to pollination such as the common bumblebee.

Biologist Lucía Sainz Escudero believes that it is a valuable area, because “its strawberry trees sustain our local pollinating species, thus helping it to survive.” She adds that “It isn’t just a pretty space to walk through; it also favors biodiversity, stopping our pollinators from disappearing.”

Bumblebees, more important than you think

There are currently over 255 species of bumblebee, 68 of them in Europe. Many of these species are at risk of extinction, endangered, or under threat according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the international organization dedicated to the conservation of natural resources. Even if they are not critically endangered, we see fewer and fewer common bumblebees because of “the threat of habitat destruction. This forces the bumblebee to emigrate to higher altitudes and latitudes, causing the population to decline,” explains the biologist.

The common bumblebee (Bombus terrestres lusitanicus) is the Mediterranean regional subspecies in Southeastern France, the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands, and Madeira (Portugal). It is considered to be one of the major pollinators. The biologist explains that “They are vitally important as they are able to adapt to colder temperatures. They carry out most of their work during the fall and winter months, pollinating the few species that flower in these seasons.”

In addition, bumblebees (together with other pollinators) enable the reproduction of plants, fruits, vegetables, and seeds, which are fundamental to our diet. This is the case with peppers, cranberries, almonds, apples, pears, and tomatoes. In the case of the tomato flower, the bumblebee is extremely efficient. It requires buzz pollination, with a unique movement that causes the flower to release the pollen. This means that our eating habits and lives would be completely different without them. Can you imagine making a salad without a tomato?

The importance of strawberry trees

Without doubt, the strawberry tree Arbutus unedo) is one of the common bumblebee’s favorite flowers “because its pollen contains a sterol, or carbon compound, that is very important for the nutrition of larvae,” explains the expert, “so the bush becomes essential for the youngest generation of bumblebees, above all.” The life cycle of this insect lasts approximately one month. Larvae are born after the first rain in fall, so “this first generation will survive thanks to the pollination of flowers in this season, among which the strawberry tree plays a fundamental role. It is their only source of food and survival in many places. In fact, without this bush, the first offspring would not survive. Thus, there wouldn’t be another generation.”

 

In Madrid, as well as the strawberry trees at Repsol Campus, you can find green spaces like “El Retiro” park and “Casa de Campo”. In the future, the amount of these bushes could increase due to new architectonic trends which plan more extensive green areas, recognizing wooded areas as more than just decorative. They are now crucial to surrounding people with nature, and ensuring that species like the common bumblebee have a source of food to pollinate. This allows their life cycle, and both their and our ecosystems, to continue.

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