OUR “BFF” ARE POLLINATORS
There are many types of pollinators and without their assistance, our food supply, agricultural economies, and ecosystem would cease to exist. Pollination happens when animals and insects such as birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, or other animals, transfer pollen from one plant to another. This leads to fertilization, and successful seed and fruit production for plants ( they transfer of genetic material critical to the reproductive system of most flowering plant). A pollen grain moves from the anther (male part) of a flower to the stigma (female part) and “voila”pollination happens. From there, we have the production of seeds, fruits, and the next generation of plants.
Why Is Pollination Important
Natures critters visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from plant to plant, spot to spot which we rely on for approximately 90 percent of all our flowering plant species. For example; most fruits, vegetables, and nuts need the assistance of pollinators, this also includes chocolate and coffee. The seeds that are not eaten will eventually produce new plants which help to maintain the plant population. Although some plant species rely on wind or water to transfer pollen from one flower to the next, the vast majority (almost 90%) of all plant species need the help of animals for this task. We could hand-pollinate crops but there would be a huge financial burden and the undertaking would be an immense, not to mention the drastic agriculture changes we would experience. Animals pollinate approximately 75 percent of the crop plants grown worldwide for food, fiber, beverages, condiments, spices, and medicines, not to mention that pollinators assist plants in providing food and cover for wildlife, preventing erosion, and keeping waterways clean.
Pollinators are essential in providing pollination in our ecosystem and for crop production. We often see hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies carrying pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. Without pollinators, our world food supply is threatened, we would have less nutritious berries and seeds, many fruits, vegetables, and nuts, like blueberries, squash, and almonds and a large number of flowering plants, including many rare species will face extinction. Bee-pollinated forage and hay crops, such as alfalfa and clover, also are used to feed the animals that supply meat and dairy products. Pollinators also play a key role in our agricultural system, creating millions of jobs worldwide in global crop production and pollinators enhances aesthetic, recreational, and cultural aspects of human activity.
Causes of Decline
There are many explanations for a number of direct declines among several wild pollinator species, as well as many other potential threats which are more challenging in determining the direct cause. Some of these causes include exposure to pathogens, parasites, and pesticides; habitat fragmentation and loss; climate change; market forces; intra- and inter-specific competition with native and invasive species; and genetic alterations. Even though there has been careful examination of the literature about declines and extinction of many wild pollinators, some causes can be directly linked to declines but some remain ambiguous or elusive for other species losses.
Insecticides & Pesticides pose a great risk to pollinators including weed killers, fungicides, insecticides, and rodenticides which are highly toxic to a variety of pollinators including hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, moths, insects and other wildlife. The name says it all, these chemicals are designed to kill and are widely used by both the agriculture industry and individual homeowners. Insecticides affect wild pollinators and bees directly through unintentional poisonings, and herbicides affect them indirectly through a loss of insect forage, other wildflowers, and nesting sites that are important in maintaining some insect and other pollinator populations.
Parasites are known to cause declines in Bee populations in fact around a third of honey bee colonies in the US have been lost each year since 2006 due in part to a syndrome referred to as ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’. Parasites cause diseases through viruses and bacteria which affects their fitness by manipulating host sex ratios or negatively affecting host survival. Because of the shared use of flowers among pollinator species, there is the potential for cross- transmission and contamination. Pathogen spillover from intensively managed populations also poses a particular risk to susceptible wildlife communities because they lack resistance novel pathogens. As many as 24 viruses that were thought to be isolated to honeybees have broadened to bumblebee, solitary bee, wasp, ant and hoverfly species, and that is just what we know of. There are several species of hummingbirds that are threatened, endangered, or of special concern because they are testing positive for diseases and viruses. The Avian Pox Virus s a highly contagious disease among birds. Other hummingbird ailments that have been documented include diseases aspergillosis, salmonellosis, and mycobacteriosis.
Habitat Fragmentation and Loss has been linked to pollinator decline through land-use change and manipulations that pollinators live within. Habitat in which they live, potential nesting locations, and forager traveling may have more detrimental effects on plant and pollinator densities than thought. When habitat area decreases, abundance and diversity of insect and wild pollinators also decrease. For example; pollinators have basic food needs and without nectar provided from native plants there are limited resources, loss of habitat disrupts nesting and suitable egg-laying, and reproduction requirements. Long distant travelers or migrators such as monarch butterfly, hummingbird, and bat, that need consistent food resources all along the way have had their journey disrupted. When fragmentation of natural landscapes is the result of human action, the consequences is that it compromises various functions of the ecosystem including the loss of biodiversity of plants wild pollinators, and other wild life species.
All around the world pollinators are facing very serious threats; birds, bats, insects of the pollinator species and more are being threatened with extinction. One of the main reasons is that pollinators are feeling the heat of climate change. With some of the drastic temperature changes from very warm to very cold in spring, flowers start to bloom sooner than usual but without success of survival. Warm temperatures accelerated the hatch of many butterflies and other pollinating species, but the flowers they depend on for nectar are not responding in sync or have died off because of the severe fluctuations in temperature. In many areas, the increase of warm temperatures in spring have made butterflies emerge from their cocoons far to early to be left without host plants to offer them nectar or pollen. That’s also a problem for the plants that rely on butterflies and other insects for pollination. It has turned into a vicious cycle. Pollinators need plants to survive, wild plants and food crops need pollinators for production and survival. Without this cycle being in sync; pollinators decline, pollinated flowers are unable to develop and produce seeds, and food supplies and production decrease, and a vast amount of wild life is threatened with extinction.
Non-Native Species interactions with both pollinating animals and pollinated plants has the potential to cause direct and in-direct impact by disrupting the structure and function of ecosystems. Removal of invasive species often benefits biological diversity allowing ecosystems’ recovery. Pollinators visiting invasive species are drawn away from native plant species, which may result in reduced reproductive capacity and degeneration of native plant habitats. Invasive alien species create risks and opportunities for pollinator nutrition, re-organize species interactions, and affect native pollination and community stability, as well as the spread and select for virulent diseases. Native plants are essential to a healthy, functional, biodiverse ecosystem. They provide nutrition and survival to many birds, pollinators, and wildlife and they are essential in keeping water clean, reducing erosion, and responding better to forest fires and drought compared to many non-natives, because they are specially adapted to live in a given geographical area. Non-native plants are introduced to a geographical areas intentionally or unintentionally. Many are often introduced in the form of pest control or decorative displays.
Invasive species come in all forms – plants, animals and microbes. Invasive plants can grow very quickly, harm property, the economy, and the native plants and animals of the region. They facilitate less pollen interaction between native flowers, disrupt native flower visitation and fertilization, crowd out or choke out native wildlife species and cause decline and extinction of native plants. Furthermore; pollinators depend upon alien plants more than on native plants, alters pollinator behavior and community composition. They also acts as pollinator magnets by attracting insects that can be detrimental to native plants and wild pollinators. Invasive species can cause overall natural habitat destruction and biodiversity loss and stability.
Colony Collapse Disorder is when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, without worker bees hives cannot sustain themselves and eventually die. But CCD is not the only risk to the health of honey bees. Parasites and pathogens such as varroa mites transmit viruses and the chemicals used to control varroa mites further compromise the honeybees’ health. The American foulbrood and tracheal mites have been found to make them more susceptible to diseases as well as new or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema. Pesticide poisoning is very harmful to bees and there has been several incidents of acute poisoning of honey bees recorded in recent years. The number of hives that do not survive over the winter months has maintained an average of about 31%. Habitat loss has reduced the abundance and diversity of floral resources and nesting opportunities where bees forage, leaving them with poor nutrition. Bees experience stress due to managed practices of transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services. Honeybees provide more than honey, they pollinate about 1/3 of crops in the U.S. including apples, nuts, broccoli, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, and animal-feed crops, such as the clover that’s fed to dairy cows. So in reality; all flowering plants need bees to survive.
Many pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths are in decline and their losses threaten wildflowers, ecosystems, agricultural crops, and natural areas which depend upon them. Pollinators are animals that help plants reproduce by transferring pollen. When they do this, they help plants produce fruits and seeds. Many native plants, as well as many food crops, rely on pollinators.
There are simple steps you can take to help pollinators so the next time you are planning your garden, go native and plant native flowers in a variety of shapes and colors to encourage diversity and that are from your geographic location. Provide water and shelter because pollinators need clean water and safe places to rest (try bee nest boxes, bird baths, bushes and brush piles). Avoid pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides which are all dangerous to our wildlife. Go one step farther and get involved, learn more about organizations that support pollinators and their habitats and monitor and report your observations to your local conservation site.
I hope you found this article helpful as I put a lot of time into this, but if I didn’t answer a question you have, feel free to comment below, and I will try to give you the best answer I can. The bottom line is, we need pollinators and pollinators need our help.