1. To tackle pollinator declines, there is a major need to increase the quantity of flower-rich habitats. Road verges offer one such opportunity but are exposed to diverse forms of pollution from roads and road traffic.
2. We carried out a broad initial assessment to establish if and how pollution affects the quality of road verges as pollinator foraging environments. We assessed the spatial distribution of pollution, flowers and pollinators in road verges, then used field experiments to simulate and measure the impacts of four ubiquitous and little studied forms of road pollution (noise, turbulence, dust and metals) on pollinator densities and foraging behaviour.
3. We found that pollinators in road verges were exposed to noise, turbulence, dust and metal pollution, which decreased with distance from the road edge but, with the exception of turbulence, extended more than 8 m into road verges.
4. Pollinator densities were lower closer to the road edge—particularly within first 2 m (55% lower than at 7–9 m)—where pollution is greatest. This was despite a similar density and species richness of flowers.
5. Simulated turbulence deterred pollinators by causing intermittent disturbance (reducing visit duration by up to 54%), and some pollinator taxa preferentially avoided concentrations of metals that were more frequently found in flowers within 2 m of roads (resulting in up to 75% fewer visits), while noise and dust had no apparent effect.
6. Synthesis and applications. Pollinators in road verges are exposed to many forms of pollution, and we found impacts of roadside-realistic levels of turbulence and metals on pollinator densities and foraging behaviour. Although the findings suggest that road verges are largely suitable for pollinator conservation, management enhancements should prioritise areas more than 2 m from the road edge, and verges along roads with relatively lower traffic densities.
- heavy metals