Let’s start by studying Sesame Street: this lesson is taught to you by animals whose names begin with the letter “B” – bats, butterflies, bugs, birds and bees.
This week is Pollinator Week, an annual pollinator health celebration aimed at raising pollinator awareness and spreading the word about how to protect them.
What is pollination?
It is the transfer of pollen to the plant, mainly carried out by the animal pollinator, that ensures fertilization and reproduction.
How does pollination work?
Because a pollinator such as a bee collects nectar from a plant such as a flower, the pollen from the stamens sticks to the bee. When the bee visits the next flower, some of that pollen rubs against the plant’s pistil, fertilizing the flower so it can produce seeds. Pollinators distribute pollen to allow plants to reproduce, and plants compensate for this service with nectar, and some provide habitat and breeding grounds for pollinators.
Why are pollinators so important?
More than 80 percent of plant species on Earth require pollinating animals to reproduce and survive. One third of all food production for all animals, including those species that consume other animals, depends on the work of pollinators. Thus, pollinators are responsible for one out of every three pieces of food you eat. This is why pollinators are so important.
The relationship between plants and pollinators is so symbiotic, so mutually dependent on each other for their existence, that it is either part of a grand design or an incredible adaptation over millennia. Fossil records show that beetles, which were abundant in the Mesozoic era, were the oldest known pollinators, and they continue to do so today, with some species specifically created for certain flowers.
If you think food prices are high right now, imagine what they would be like if a third of the food supply disappeared due to such a break in the food chain. That’s why the decline in pollinators – 13 species of bees have gone extinct in recent decades – should be of concern to all of us, whether carnivores or vegans.
There are several reasons for the alarming decline, including colony collapse, habitat loss and climate change. Since climate change is a cause of habitat loss and is suspected to be a factor in colony destruction, let’s look at how it has contributed to pollinator decline.
According to the National Park Service, climate change is shifting the growing and flowering seasons, weakening the life of plants that pollinators depend on. Warmer weather is also changing migration patterns and periods.
Pollinators are sensitive to temperature changes that signal periods of migration. If migratory pollinators such as monarch butterflies migrate too early, the milkweed plants on which they exclusively depend are not mature enough to provide food and habitat. In autumn, when the warm weather lasts longer, they migrate too late. In recent years, the population of monarchs has declined.
There are measures to protect pollinators that anyone can take:
• Ensure safe and healthy ecosystems by avoiding pesticides and insecticides that can harm unintended pollinating species and their plant foods.
• Compost food and organic waste. Drafting creates nutrient-rich, healthy soil conducive to plant growth. Brown County has home composters for sale, but the county should consider a larger operation that is accessible to all residents, including those in multi-unit dwellings.
Composting is a win-win in reducing waste and turning it into superior soil. In addition to home improvement, people with affordable real estate can plant pollinator gardens to literally create a habitat for pollinators. There are several types of gardens that attract species by providing food and habitat using native plants to conserve and promote biodiversity, some of which are low and some of which are high and also remove invasive species.
Websites such as pollinator.org offer instructions for creating pollinator gardens, which can also include pollinator-attracting berries and herbs such as basil, cilantro, and chives.
To help pollinators, you can start right now: share the situation and knowledge with others, such as your friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances, as well as give advice and guidance, which can be found here.