Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pollinator Week 2012

This week is National Pollinator Week, an occasion to celebrate the vital role that insects, as well as some birds and mammals, play in plant reproduction. Unlike animals, plants cannot move themselves to find partners and mate. So in order to take advantage of the genetic benefits of sexual reproduction, plants use a different strategy. Most flowers contain male and female parts (though some species have male-only and female-only plants). The male parts produce pollen, which must come in contact with female parts so the plant can produce a seed-containing fruit. Some plants are able to pollinate themselves, and others spread their pollen by wind or water, but the vast majority (75-80% of plants) need the assistance of animal pollinators.

A few pollinator tidbits:
  • Bees — both honey bees and wild native bees — are the most efficient pollinators. Pollen is an important part of their diet, as it provides protein to complement the sugary nectar they drink for energy. Their bodies are hairy to facilitate moving pollen easily; some goes back to their nest, and some gets transferred from flower to flower.
  • Other insects that assist in pollination include butterflies, moths, wasps, ants, beetles, true bugs, and flies. Birds such as hummingbirds and honeyeaters and mammals such as bats also pollinate some plants. Some 200,000 animal species act as pollinators, of which about 1,000 are vertebrates.
  • About 1/3 of our food and drink is produced by pollinators. Pollinators account for almost $20 billion worth of food in the United States alone.
  • Foods that depend on pollinators include chocolate, coffee, blueberries, apples, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, melons, pumpkins, and almonds. 
  • Despite their importance to the food industry and ecosystem health, many pollinator species are in serious decline. The problems affecting honey bee colonies are well-documented. Less well-known is that many native bees are also declining and need conservation. 
  • While honey bees and some wasp and hornet species sting, most native bees and wasps are solitary and prefer not to sting if they can avoid it. It makes sense to be careful around them and avoid disturbing their nests, but killing bees unnecessarily probably does more harm than good.
  • Many people (including me!) have pollen allergies linked to trees, grasses, or weeds. Most pollen-related allergies are caused by wind-assisted pollination rather than animal-assisted pollination.
There is a lot more information available on the Pollinator Week website. For further reading, please see the Xerces Society guidelines on pollinator-friendly gardening and land management. The Xerces Society also publishes plant lists for pollinator-friendly gardens and directions for building bee houses.

(via Bug Girl's Blog)