Protect the Pollinators
A current well-known estimate, from the research of Marcelo A. Aizen and Lawrence D. Harder of the Universidad Nacional del Comahue and the University of Calgary respectively, suggests that approximately one-third of our food derives from animal-pollinated, mostly bee-pollinated, crops. From Insects in Danger by Smithyman and Kalman, pollen is described as a powdery substance found in flowers, and aids in pollination which occurs when pollen is moved from one flower to another. Pollination can occur when insects are searching for food, and they fly or crawl to different plants, carrying the pollen with them on their bodies. Both the production and diversity of agriculture appear to depend greatly on biotic pollination, specifically provided by the honey-bees (Apis mellifera), which is the single most important pollinator species in addition to the abundance of wild bee species. Other insects that carry pollen include wasps, moths, ants, butterflies, flies and beetles. Insect pollination helps various plants grow. Without insects, there would be very few flowers and trees and people would not have many of the foods they eat every day. For example: some crops that insects pollinate are apples, almonds, cotton, beans and pumpkins.
Unfortunately, stocks of honey-bees are currently experiencing many diseases and populations of wild pollinator species are also in decline. This is raising concerns that a potential global pollination crisis threatens our food supply. According to Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota professor of entomology, bees have been dying over the last 50 years, and we have been planting more crops that need them. Specifically, there has been a 300 percent increase in crop production that requires bee pollination. In North America, the number of managed honey-bee hives has declined almost 60 percent since the mid-1940s, and the diversity of wild bees has also decreased partially due to habitat destruction.
Furthermore pesticides, poisons that kill insects, are used to spray crops to deter insects from eating the crops. However, the pesticide spray not only lands on the crops, it also covers nearby trees, shrubs and flowers. After World War II, pesticides were used on a large scale basis, which became necessary because of the monocultures that served as a feast for crop pests. The pesticides poison the insects that land on the plants and unfortunately honey bees typically die when they collect pollen from plants that have been sprayed with said pesticides. Many of the insects that are poisoned by pesticides are pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.
Without pollinators, most plants cannot make seeds and reproduce. Consequently, there is a decline in plants which then lowers the amount of insects that are able to survive. Some of these plants are host plants, which are the plants on which some insects lay their eggs. For example: The monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants. The monarch caterpillars that hatch from the eggs only eat the host milkweed plants thus it is detrimental when people select to spray herbicides on the milkweed plants. Without milkweeds, monarch butterflies have nowhere to lay their eggs. The milkweed plant commonly grows in open spaces and fields; however increasing use of herbicides and pesticides has a critical impact on these species. This is one example demonstrating how detrimental habitat destruction is to certain pollinators.
As troubling as this news might be, there are ways for you to help save the bees and other pollinators. Visit your local green house, or search online for flowers that are native to your area and plant them. Call (705) 325-5386 or email us (email@example.com) at Kids For Turtles and inquire about our Building Your Own Pollinator Garden Booklet! This will allow bees and other pollinators to have access to good nutrition through their pollination services. In turn, our crops can continue to be pollinated and our pollinators can thrive once again due to their mutualistic relationship. Please, let the small act of planting flowers, and keeping them free of pesticides, be the countermeasure to a huge problem. Planting these flowers is an essential component in driving positive large-scale change for not only pollinators, but for ourselves as well. Thank you.
Written by: Laura Kielek-Caster, 2015 Outreach Educator and Office Administrator with Kids for Turtles. Kids for Turtles Environmental Education is an educational and outreach organization working to bring a better understanding of and stewardship to the environment around us.