Did you know? According to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization’s statistics, pollinators (such as bees) affect 35% of global agricultural to help produce 87% of the world’s leading crops. That effectively means our survival on Earth depends on pollinators.
Let’s find out who are pollinators and their role in pollination!
What is pollination?
Seed plants around the world need to be pollinated for their species to continue existing. The process of pollination cannot take place without pollen grains and pollinators. Pollen grains are microscopic particles that are produced in the stamen. It is the male reproductive part of the plant and are stored in sac-like structures called anthers.
The process of transporting pollen grains from anthers to the stigma of the flower, which is the female reproductive part of the plant, is called ‘pollination’.
Check out my other article about “Structure and Parts of a flower“, one of 11 Horticulture Class articles.
Who are pollinators?
The ecological survival function that we know as pollination is carried out by animals and insects. This occurs as they travel from the female reproductive part of the plant to the male reproductive part of the plant to deliver pollen.
When these animals and insects visit plants to drink nectar or feed off pollen grains, they rub against the stamen. That results in their body being covered with pollen grains. When they move to another plant next, they deposit the pollen on the stigma and style where it can begin germinating under adequate conditions.
What are some examples of pollinators?
When you think of pollinators, which animal or insect comes to mind first? Most people will answer this question with ‘honeybees’. Widely known as the most common pollinator, wild and managed honey bees will tirelessly work hard to collect and deposit pollen. However, several other insects and animals do just as good a job as pollinators.
Butterflies will typically be attracted to brightly colored and sweet-smelling flowers to feed on their nectar. They pick up pollen all over their legs in the process. They help several fruits, vegetables, and seed flowers with pollinating.
The night shift of pollination is the responsibility of moths. Moths feed on the nectar produced by fragrant nocturnal flowers and help with pollination. They also pollinate the rare angelic beauty, ghost orchid.
In cold and alpine environments, the duty of pollination is thrust upon the shoulders of these delicate two-winged creatures, especially for open and bowl-shaped flowers. Love chocolate? Flies are crucial to helping pollinate the cocoa tree!
The spicy scent of white and green flowers such as magnolias and the smell of fresh fruits attracts beetles to visit these pollen factories. Beetles are essential pollinators, especially for a variety of tropical palm tree species such as Oil Palm.
Pesky as they are, wasps have been recognized as valuable pollinators. They visit flowers to drink nectar as a source of quick energy when they are hunting which allows them to pollinate flowers. Of course, they are not as efficient with pollination as the other insects on this list, owing to the lack of hair on their bodies.
Bats are responsible for pollinating more than 300 species of plants around the world, particularly in desert ecosystems where other insects struggle to survive. They are incredibly efficient as they can deposit large amounts of pollen over long distances. Plants such as agave and saguaro depend solely on bats for pollination.
Birds enjoy snacking on nectar locked in flowers. They use their tongues, which helps pollen get stuck on their bills. When they perch between flowers to feed on nectar, their bill deposits pollen on the style and stamen of female plants. Tropical region plants such as nutmeg, papaya, bananas, and wildflowers benefit immensely from bird pollination.
Bees – tiny miracle workers
Unsurprisingly, bees get the main credit for pollination and their 20,000 different species such as honey bees, bumblebees, and mason bees. They enjoy drinking nectar but also collect pollen as a source of protein to feed their offspring.
Specialized biological features such as branched hair structures on their legs (called ‘scopae’), tiny body size, and small but powerful wings help them pollinate a large number of flowers in a small amount of time.
What Role do pollinators play?
Pollinators and seed plants have developed a ‘mutualistic relationship’ between themselves. This relationship means that they both benefit from each other and it has helped them survive for centuries. Nectar and pollen grains produced by flowering plants is a key component in the diet of pollinators.
The bees especially need it to help their colonies survive and feed their young ones. In return, pollinators help plants and flowers reproduce by carrying their genetic material as they cannot seek out sexual partners like other organisms. For this reason, pollinators are the bedrock of any thriving ecosystem. It’s impossible for thousands of plants and flowers to exist without them!
What would we do without pollinators?
It is grim to imagine a dark reality without pollinators. This is especially so because they sustain the global human population of 7 billion through the indirect provision of food substances.
According to a BBC article, pollinators are responsible for the continued existence of more than 70% of all plant crop species. They help generate more than $30 billion in agriculture every year. Without pollinators, entire ecosystems would collapse starting from plants, then animals that consume them, and finally human beings.
Don’t take pollinators for granted!