What is Pollination?

Pollination is when pollen from male structures (anthers) of flowers is moved to the female structure (stigma) of the same plant species.  Movement of pollen (analogous to sperm) to a flower’s stigma results in fertilization of the flower’s eggs. A successfully fertilized flower will produce seeds and the fruit surrounding seeds, ensuring that a new generation of plants can grow.

Honey bee diving in a flower looking for nectar and pollen.

 

How can a flower be pollinated?

Pollination occurs in different ways. Some plants are self-pollinating. Other rely on wind or water to move pollen. Another group of plants depends on a very special category of helpers: the pollinators.

Who are the pollinators?

Examples of pollinators include insects, birds, mammals and even some reptiles. Bees, waspsants; bee flies; both butterflies and moths; and flower beetles are a few insects. Vertebrates, mainly bats and birds, but also some monkeys, possums, rodents and some lizards pollinate specific plants.

 

 

Why pollinators pollinate?

There is a misconception that pollinators pollinate so they can help us grow food. This is not true. Both pollinators and plants “developed” a mutually beneficial system to them. Pollination results in the production of seeds and is necessary for many plants to reproduce. Meanwhile, pollinators receive nectar and/or pollen rewards from the flowers that they visit.  Sugary nectar provides pollinators with carbohydrates while pollen offers proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and necessary phytochemicals.

Why are pollinators important?

Some species of plants, such as wheat do not require pollinators at all. Other plants do not necessarily need pollinators, but they will reproduce more slowly and produce less fruit without them around. The last group is of plants which cannot reproduce or produce fruits without pollinators.

Actually, pollinators are responsible for approximately three-quarters of our major food crops. [1,2]. Outside of our agricultural system, approximately 80-95% of the plant species found in natural habitats require animal-mediated pollination [2].

What is the situation of pollinators and how can we help them?

The relationship plant/pollinator is a very ancient and mutualistic one. Plants benefit from pollinators for reproduction and pollinators benefit from plants for nourishment. It is an equilibrium which, if affected in a negative way, can cause damage to both populations.

The lack of foraging ground due to increase of farmland and cities diminishes the quantity and quality of flowers, which in turn affect the animals that feed on the nectar those flowers produce.

 

Use of chemicals like pesticides and herbicides might also have an impact on pollinator’s health. And a lot of those chemicals are being used.

In order to help pollinators there are a few things we can do:

  • Understand who are the pollinators found in your area
  • Plant native, local plants that offer both nectar and pollen
  • Keep clean water available
  • Reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides
  • Change our monoculture agricultural model
  • Consume sustainably produced organic products

[1] Klein, A-M, et al. "The importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops". Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274 (1608): 303-313.

[2] Ollerton J, Winfree R, Tarrant S: How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos2011, 120(3):321-326.

 

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