[Article written by Risto Kniivila]
What are Pollinators?
A pollinator is any organism that helps plants fertilize seeds by moving pollen from the flower of one plant to another of the same species, or between the male and female structures of the flowers of a single plant. Many kinds of plants rely on pollinators to fruit, reproduce and survive, including important agricultural crops such as apples, melons, berries, almonds, and many others. In fact, pollinators are so vital to our food chain that it is estimated they produce nearly one billion dollars in agricultural value each year in Ontario.
How do Pollinators Pollinate?
Pollinators help distribute pollen while they are drinking plant nectar or visiting plants. They are attracted to these plants by the colour and scent and of their flowers. The pollen from these plants sticks to the pollinating organism and goes with it as it travels from flower to flower and plant to plant. This arrangement benefits both organisms: the plants feed the pollinators, who in turn spread the pollen needed to produce viable seeds for more plants. It has been an evolution of the two working in harmony for about 100 million years.
There Are Many Types of Pollinators!
When we think of pollinators, our minds automatically jump to bees as the saviours of our gardens, crops, and wildflowers. That assumption isn’t wrong, as there are over 400 species of wild bees just in Ontario, and over 700 species across Canada, all of which are helping to keep our flowers blooming and our crops growing. Bees, however, are not alone in this task. Other kinds of organisms that help our ecosystems thrive include:
Butterflies: attracted to colourful flowers
Flies: pollinate strawberries, onions, and carrots
Moths: there is growing evidence that they are actively pollinating many flowers
Wasps: adult wasps eat nectar and rotting fruit, passing pollen from plant to plant
Hummingbirds: help pollinate flowers and some fruit trees
Squirrels: carry pollen when scouring for food
Beetles: thought to be among the first of the insect pollinators, nowadays they primarily pollinate close descendants of ancient plant species, including magnolias and water lilies
Overall, there are many pollinators out there, as pollination is as simple as transporting pollen from one plant to another. So, check in your yard and neighbourhood to see if there are any that we missed!
Major threats currently facing pollinator populations include: climate change and habitat loss; predation or competition from invading species; disease; and harmful chemicals used in the agricultural process.
Tracking Pollinator Populations
Pollinator-dependent crops make up about a third of what we eat every day -- in other words, our survival depends on their survival. We should all be concerned about the health and vitality of pollinator populations. However, it is a daunting task to monitor these populations, and scientists need your help!
Bumblebee Watch is a website where citizen scientists (anyone who publicly participates in scientific research) can submit a picture they have taken of a bumblebee, and help identify the species and their habitat, which helps scientists study their populations and determine which species are at risk. If you are interested in contributing, please add any pictures you have to this website and help in the research -- the bees will thank you!
How to Create a Pollinator Friendly Garden, David Suzuki Foundation
Pollinator Health, Government of Ontario