In recent years there’s been a growing concern over the state of the world’s pollinators and rightly so. Many different types of pollinators have seen their numbers decline. For example, insect populations have dropped all over the world and while worries about an “insect apocalypse” are more nuanced than first feared, it’s something that is still of huge concern. Similarly, over 600 million birds have been lost across Europe since 1980 and fears of ecological mismatch continue. But why should this worry us? Why are pollinators important?
What Is Pollination?
To first understand why pollinators are important it’s good to have an understanding of what pollination is. You may remember it from your biology class but if not, here’s a reminder!
Pollination is the term used when plants reproduce. It’s the process that enables plants to produce seeds which can then start the lifecycle all over again.
Plants have both male and female parts. The male part, known as the stamen, is a long stalk found in the middle of a flower and contains pollen at its end. The female part, known as the stigma, can be found at the very centre of the flower. The stigma is connected to a tube which runs to an ovule located inside the flower where seeds will eventually develop.
While some plants are self-pollinating (pollen from one plant’s stamen reaches the same plant’s stigma and successful fertilisation occurs), others require the pollen from another plant for successful fertilisation. This is known as cross-pollination.
For example, when bees pollinate they will visit a flower to collect nectar, in doing so, pollen rubs off onto them, then, when they visit another flower, the pollen from the original flower is deposited onto the second flower and cross-pollination is achieved. This second flower will now be able to produce seeds as fertilisation has occurred.
What Types Of Pollinators Are There?
It may be a surprise, but there are actually many different types of pollinators and ways that pollination can occur. The following animals are all known to help pollination occur:
- Brush-tongued Parrots
- Honey Possums
This list shows just how many pollinators there are. However, it’s not exhaustive. We’ve mentioned just a few birds but there are actually around 2000 species of birds who pollinate. Also, some reptiles do as well!
While different species of animals pollinate, there are other ways pollination can occur.
Other common pollination methods are the use of wind and water. Strong winds can blow pollen from one plant to the next. This is how trees, like conifers, can become pollinated. Other species use water to help pollination occur!
Why Are Pollinators Important?
We now know what pollination is and how it occurs but why are pollinators important? Pollinators are important for a number of reasons. For example:
They Allow Fruit Development to Occur – Without pollination there would be a lot less fruits. While self-pollinating plants would still self-pollinate, all the fruiting plants that rely on cross-pollination would not bear fruit. This would have a huge impact on food production around the world for humans and all other species that eat fruits. This would also have a knock-on effect on the economy.
They Allow Plants to Reproduce – Like with fruiting plants, if there were no pollinators, plants would not be able to reproduce. This means that plants species numbers around the world would drastically decrease until extinction occurs. Plants need pollinators to engage in pollination so they can produce seeds which grow again and continue the life cycle.
They Help Maintain Native Flora – Pollinators have direct relationships with the plants they pollinate. Therefore, a healthy pollinator population is required to maintain native plant species all over the world. Poppies, cornflowers and bluebells all rely on pollinators. This close relationship has been visible in the linked declines of native plants and pollinators across the UK and Europe.
They Boost Biodiversity – Pollinators also help ecosystems become more diverse. There is a direct correlation between pollinator diversity and plant diversity which is necessary for a healthy and thriving ecosystem. Without pollinators the whole ecosystem can struggle.
How Can You Help Pollinators?
Pollinators are important but unfortunately, their numbers are declining. They are continually threatened by intensive agricultural practices, habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change and the influx of alien species. If we don’t take collective action the outcome will be dire. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help pollinators. Take a look at the list below!
- Create a bug/insect hotel – Many pollinators are losing their habitats. By creating a small home that provides shelter for pollinators, you can make a big difference to those needing somewhere to rest before they look for the next flower!
- Cut down on mowing your lawn – Many flowers can be found in our lawns, if we let them grow. However, we often cut the grass before they have chance to flower. This means there is a huge amount of potentially-flowering plants not available to pollinators which makes their job harder. Therefore, if you can stop mowing your lawn, you can help save nature!
- Plant pollinator-friendly flowers – By growing flowering plants you can help encourage pollination. It will make the lives of pollinators easier and help sustain their numbers because without available nectar sources they will starve. Fortunately, many garden centres now have special seed packs that are great for pollinators in particular.
- Ditch pesticides and other chemicals – While they may make your grass look greener or kill the slugs that are eating your salads, pesticides are very dangerous. They can cause huge issues in whole ecosystems and they also negatively impact pollinators. There are many natural alternatives you can use which are not damaging to pollinators or the environment!
- Support bee-friendly organisations and World Bee Day! – Many organisations conduct amazing work to help protect bees (it’s an area we are extremely familiar with!) however, they need your support. Whether it’s your time, donations or enthusiasm, there are always ways to get involved. And don’t forget, World Bee Day is on 20th May each year!
Have you done anything to help pollinators recently? Let us know in the comments below!