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Let us start with some Sesame Street learning: This lesson is brought to you by animals that start with the letter B — bats, butterflies, beetles, birds and bees.
This week is Pollinator Week, an annual celebration in support of pollinator health to raise awareness for pollinators and spread the word about how to protect them.
What is pollination?
It is the transfer of pollen to a plant, mostly done by a pollinator animal, that allows fertilization and reproduction.
How does pollination work?
As a pollinator, such as a bee, collects nectar from a plant, such as a flower, pollen from the stamen sticks to the bee. When the bee visits the next flower, and some of this pollen rubs onto the plant’s pistil, fertilizing the flower so it can produce seeds. Pollinators distribute pollen to allow plants to reproduce, and plants compensate that service with nectar, with some providing pollinator living and breeding habitat.
Why are pollinators so important?
More than 80 percent of plant species on Earth require an animal pollinator species to reproduce and survive. A third of all food production for all animals — including animal species that consume other animals, depends on the work of pollinators. So pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you eat. That’s why pollinators are so important.
The relationship between plants and pollinators is so symbiotic, so mutually dependent on each other for existence, it is either part of a grand design or an incredible adaptation over eons of years. Fossil records show beetles which were abundant during the Mesozoic Era were the oldest known pollinators — and they continue their work yet today, with some species specially designed for some flowers.
If you think food prices are high now, imagine what they’d be if a third of the food supply was removed by this kind of break in the food chain. This is why the decline of pollinators — 13 bee species have become extinct in recent decades — should be a concern of all of us, whether carnivore or vegan.
There are several reasons for the alarming decline, including bee colony collapses, habitat loss and climate change. Since climate change is a cause of habitat loss and is a suspected factor in colony collapses, let’s look at how it has contributed to the decline in pollinators.
Climate change is shifting growing and blooming seasons, according to the National Park Service, which weakens plant life that pollinators depend on. Warmer weather also alters migration patterns and periods.
Pollinators sensitive to temperature changes which signal migration periods. If migrating pollinators like monarch butterflies migrate too early, the milkweed plants they exclusively depend on are not mature enough to provide food and habitat. In fall when warm weather is lasting longer, they migrate too late. Monarch populations have declines in most recent years.
There are measures to protect pollinators which everyone can take:
• Ensure safe and healthy ecosystems by avoiding pesticides and insecticides, which can hurt unintended pollinator species and their plant food species.
• Compost food and organic trash. Composing creates nutrient-rich, healthy soil promoting plant growth. Brown County has home composters for sale, but the county should consider larger-scale operation available for all residents, including those in multi-residential housing to participate.
Composting is a win-win in reducing waste and transforming it into superior soil. In addition to home composing, people with available property can plant pollinator gardens to literally create pollinator habitat. There are several types of gardens to attract species by providing food and habitat using native plants to preserve and encourage biodiversity, some short and some tall and removing invasive species.
Websites like pollinator.org offer directions on how to create pollinator gardens, which can also include berries and herbs like basil, cilantro and chives that attract pollinators.
To help pollinators, you can start now: Spread awareness of the situation and knowledge to others like your friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances, as well as offer tips and advice found here.
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