This is Pollinator week…
Why is Pollination important and who does it?
Normally the first thing that comes to mind when you think of pollination is flowers and bees. I think it is important that everyone understands and respect the role our friends the bees play in maintaining our life system through their pollination function. They are not the only pollinators in the animal kingdom, but they are often the most visible proponents of this important life nurturing activity. Bees along with other insects, birds and bats are key pollinators – they fertilize by the transference of pollen so that plants and flowers can bear fruit. Approximately a third of our food supplies are pollinated by bees.
So what exactly is Pollination?
Pollination is the transfer of pollen from a male part of a plant to a female part of a plant, later enabling fertilisation and the production of seeds, most often by an animal or by wind. Pollinating agents are animals such as insects, birds, and bats; water; wind; and even plants themselves, when self-pollination occurs within a closed flower. Pollination commonly occurs within a species, but when it occurs between species it can produce hybrid offspring in nature and through horticultural activities.
Pollination is vital to the health of the global food system. And a single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers in one day. So, what would a world without bees look like?
Without bees and other pollinators such as bats we would not have coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes, cocoa, cashew nuts, bananas, guavas, figs and durian fruits, to name just a few wild crop plants that rely on pollination.
|A fruit bat clearly demonstrates how pollen attaches to its face while feeding||A group of Dog-faced Fruit Bats in Hong Kong - an important local pollinator and seed disperser||
Mammals and insects may pollinate the same flowers
What would a world without pollination look like?
Quite bad actually - the results would not be very nice to see – in fact catastrophic. The worst case scenario would be starvation and suffering on a mass scale and a multitude of knock-on effects that could eventually lead to the extinction of humans and most other living forms. We depend on plants and plants depend on pollinators. In order to sustain life on earth and protect human survival and health a balance must be maintained. Apparently, one in three bites of food eaten around the world depends on pollinators.
Pollinator week therefore should be important to all of us and a great opportunity to reflect on how Nature takes care of our lives even though we are often not so considerate to Nature!
Without pollination most flowers and trees would die out severely impacting natural food chains, and without dispersal of fertilized seeds following successful pollination new trees would not grow. Pollination also helps to pass on genetical components that allow diversity in future offspring, this includes stronger and more disease resistant individuals – the absence of this function would also lead to the loss of adaptable species and contribute toward extinctions.
More about Bees
Although they are small and quite often considered unfriendly, wild bees are an important keystone species, many other species depend on them for survival. We as consumers can also thank bees for much of the food that we eat. Put simply, we cannot live without bees.
Bees have had a bad time in the last decade or so. Thanks to a number of negative human-related impacts, including wide use of pesticides and possibly climate change, bee populations have dropped steadily over the past years.
Without bees we would not have honey production and many common plant species that are presently important for livestock feed and our own vegetables would be lost. We would lose a considerable number of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. The removal of these important sources of plant-based nutrition from our diets would lead to a significant decline in human health.
Bees and other pollinators are vital for global food security. If they were to go extinct, plants that rely on pollination would suffer.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that pollinators like bees and butterflies help pollinate approximately 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants. They pollinate roughly 35 percent of the world’s food crops—including fruits and vegetables. They also support the production of 87 of the world’s leading food crops.
There are more than 20,000 different bee species around the world. The majority of these are wild. But a 2016 assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found a growing number of pollinator species around the world are on the brink of extinction.
Even managed apiary bees are on the decline. A 2018 study found that 40 percent of American beekeepers’ honey bee colonies disappeared between April 2017 and April 2018. This was partly due to colony collapse disorder (CCD). This phenomenon occurs when honey bees abandon their hives and die off at high rates. Experts have not yet determined the exact causes of CCD. But some studies point to pesticide use, insect mites, malnutrition, and chemicals in the environment.
According to the study, in the U.S. alone, the production of pollinator-dependent crops accounts for more than US$50 billion of the country’s total food supply. You can see how food security becomes an increasingly important concern.
In 2018, the EU banned the outdoor use of the three main neonicotinoid insecticides—clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. The U.S. passed a similar ban on pesticides in 2019. The Environmental Protection Agency prohibited the use of 12 products containing neonicotinoids. Farmers used the pesticides to protect crops from pests and diseases. But experts have linked the chemicals to reduced movement and memory in bees, and ultimately their death.
How can we help bees?
We can all help bees and other insects. Instead of using deadly pesticides, gardeners can opt for bee-friendly, natural alternatives. A number of plants—such as chrysanthemums, lavender, and lemongrass can be used to repel pest insects instead of using pesticides, bees and many other pollinating insects will then be safe.
Trees, flowers, and shrubs will provide the bee with a source of food - pollen and nectar. Even keeping a wide variety of flowers and herbs on your balcony will help attract bees and provide them with a food source. If you have space build an insect/bug hotel (see below) in your garden or on your balcony.
- Two links for more information about Insect/Bug Hotels
|Visit the Insect Hotel at KFBG||The vine Birdwood’s Macuna at KFBG in March|
Local Mammals and Birds are also important Pollinators
In Hong Kong several mammals and birds are also important pollinators and seed dispersers. The Masked Palm Civet and the Dog-faced Fruit Bat are good examples. These aid pollination in certain plant and tree species several of which, like Birdwood’s Macuna have evolved specifically to attract mammals.
The illustrations below include some of our local animal pollinator species and can be found on the KFBG website.
During Pollination Week give a thought for the tireless role that many animals play in maintaining our life support systems and wherever possible help to support any local programmes that conserve natural habitats and insects. The more diverse and natural the habitats are the sweeter your honey is and the safer our natural health system will be for future generations.
Dr Gary Ades
Fauna Conservation Department
The importance of Pollination in our lives