What are pollinators?

We call animals or insects that transfer pollen from plant to plant “pollinators”.

Flowers must rely on vectors to move pollen. These vectors can include wind, water, birds, insects, butterflies, bats, and other animals that visit flowers. Pollination is usually the unintended consequence of an animal’s activity on a flower. The pollinator is often eating or collecting pollen for its protein and other nutritional characteristics or it is sipping nectar from the flower when pollen grains attach themselves to the animal’s body. When the animal visits another flower for the same reason, pollen can fall off onto the flower’s stigma and may result in successful reproduction of the flower.

Pollination is the act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. Seeds can only be produced when pollen is transferred between flowers of the same species.

Insect and other animal pollinators obtain food in the form of energy-rich nectar and/or protein-rich pollen, from the flowers they visit and in return, the flowers receive the services of pollinators carrying pollen from one flower to another.

While food is often a sufficient lure for pollinators, flowering plants also attract pollinators using a combination of petal shapes, scents, and colors.

Source: United States Forest Service

The importance of pollinators.

Pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops.

Domestic honeybees pollinate approximately $10 billion worth of crops in the U.S. each year. Bee poisonings from pesticides result in annual losses of $14.3 million.

Pollinators support biodiversity – there is a positive correlation between plant diversity and pollinator diversity.

Pollinators sustain natural ecosystems and preserve the quality of human and all other species of life.

Source: North American Pollinator Protection Campaign

The plight of pollinators.

The National Academy of Sciences report, Status of Pollinators in North America, states that pollinator declines are undeniably occurring. The report identifies the main causes as habitat loss, pesticide use, and, especially in honey bees, diseases.

Populations of the once-common monarch butterfly have plummeted 90 percent over the past 20 years (www.monarchwatch.org)

The number of commercially managed honeybee colonies in the U.S. has declined from 5.9 million in the 1940’s to 2.5 million in 2007. Feral bees are essentially gone in the U.S. (North American Pollinator Protection Campaign http://pollinator.org/index.html)

How to help pollinators.

  1. Provide habitat! 
    1. Plant a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the growing season.
    2. Strive for diversity and utilize native plants.
    3. Include host plants (for butterfly caterpillars).
    4. Provide a bee house for native bees (link).
    5. Plant milkweed for monarch caterpillars.
    6. Plant trees and shrubs and leave fallen logs and snags for habitat.
  2. Create a schoolyard habitat.
  3. Initiate a pollinator garden habitat project in your community.
  4. Avoid using pesticides.
  5. Support garden centers with native and chemical free plant and garden materials.
  6. Advocate with decision makers for practices that help pollinators.