Have you enjoyed a fresh cup of coffee today? Have you indulged in a bar of chocolate? Have you relished a crisp apple or a juicy blueberry? Thank a pollinator!
Pollinators such as bees, bats, birds and butterflies are vital to the natural reproduction processes of plants. They carry pollen from plant to plant, ensuring the development of full bodied fruits and full sets of viable seeds. Pollinators are known as a keystone species, or a species that performs a unique and crucial role in an ecosystem. Without its keystone species, an ecosystem would suffer significant adverse impacts or even cease to function.
Pollinators are, in part, responsible for the production of as many as 80 percent of our flowering plants and food crops. Worldwide, thousands of plants cultivated for food, fibers and medicines must be pollinated by animals to produce the goods on which we depend. Some of these products include apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds and even tequila. In the United States, pollination by honey bees and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually.
Unfortunately, a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences found that the populations of pollinators are rapidly declining due to a variety of factors: habitat loss, chemical use, invasive plants and animals, diseases, parasites and malnutrition. For example, a disease known as White Nose Syndrome is responsible for the deaths of almost six million bats in North America. A phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder – in which honey bees abruptly and inexplicably disappear from their colonies – has created considerable environmental and economic repercussions throughout the world, and it has led to the loss of 50 percent of all honey bee hives in the US in the last two years.
Without pollinators, our food supply would be seriously and perhaps irreparably threatened. However, individuals can engage in simple steps that will help to bolster the populations of pollinators.
WHAT YOU CAN DO …
– Plant a garden to attract pollinators. Provide a range of native flowering plants in a variety of colors and shapes. Pollinator attractors include aster, azalea, bee balm, goldenrod, milkweed, redbud, sunflower, basil, blazing star, cosmos, gaura, lavender, rudbeckia, purple coneflower, rosemary, Russian sage and veronica.
– Avoid the use of pesticides and other chemicals in your home and garden.
– Build houses for native solitary bees and bats.
– Lessen your environmental impacts by conserving energy and water, reducing emissions, reducing waste, recycling and improving air quality.
If pollinators thrive, then our crops will thrive. In turn, we will thrive.