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The Power of Pollination

By Riley O'Halloran

Pollinators are fundamental to the world’s ecosystem, the most important of which being the bee. Though other insects, like butterflies and wasps, also contribute to pollination, the bee is the primary source. While it may sound dramatic, but without pollinators, the world as we know it would cease to exist. Around 85% of flowering plants, some of which include major crops, rely on pollination by arthropods, the phylum including insects, spiders, and many more, in order to reproduce (Potts et al., 2016). We rely on pollinators for food security, preservation of biodiversity of both plants and animals, and economic stability. Without them, we would be scrambling to pick up the slack. Right now, bees and other major pollinators are facing major threats to their livelihood including habitat destruction, pesticides, invasive species, and climate change. Climate change in particular is an issue that may result in many unforeseen outcomes. Bees need to keep very specific temperatures in their colonies in order to function and reproduce. They have mechanisms in place to maintain optimal temperature, like ventilation via wing flapping, but climate change will put more stress on the colony. Bordier et al. (2017) found that honeybees were capable of maintaining necessary colony temperatures when subjected to simulated heat waves, but by straining colony resources, like backup forces typically responsible for foraging. As a result of the simulated heat wave, more nutrient collecting bees were recruited. These recruited bees are supposed to be on standby if more foragers are needed. This leaves the colony more vulnerable if any other environmental pressures, like depleted food stores or disease, were to arise. While the issues of such a small insect may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, it turns out that these problems truly are impactful for humans. Bees pollinate several major crops that people around the world are dependent upon. Food types including fruits, nuts, seeds, coffee, cocoa, and more all need pollination. Of the 107 leading global crop types, bees pollinate over 90%, and the yield and quality of 75% of globally imported crops types are reliant on pollination. These crops are leading sources of vitamins and minerals necessary for the diet of humans and other organisms. Regions that have high vitamin A deficiency have been found to be three times more reliant on pollinated crops containing vitamin A (Potts et al., 2016). Without pollination, humans would need to completely rework sources of key ingredients in their diets, a harrowing feat considering the vastly growing global population and already present hunger epidemic.

Artwork by Vayl Sorensen

Besides the obvious, direct contributions to our diet, pollinators are vastly important to other aspects of human society, including the global economy. Coffee, cocoa, and almonds all need to be pollinated and the industries built around them provide income and employment for approximately 1.4 billion people worldwide (Potts et al., 2016). Rural communities are especially reliant on crops as key sources of income. A drop in pollinators could result in devastating profit losses for farmers and other individuals in these industries. Pollinated plants have an abundance of uses besides being a major food source for the world. They are also used in medicines, biofuels, construction materials, and more (Potts et al., 2016). Entire businesses are built around pollinated plants, and without the supply, they may be in a bit of trouble. Climate change is threatening the endurance of pollinators, which could result in an abundance of difficulties for us. Our economy, our diet, and our health are supported by pollinators. When it comes down to it, climate change is threatening our livelihood; it is a serious issue we must address and work to remedy. New infrastructures are being put into place to combat these serious issues we all face. Efforts to strengthen pollinator diversity are currently in practice including habitat preservation and increased crop diversity. Others have started commercial pollination services where bees are essentially rented out to farms (Potts et al., 2016). At this point, the results of many supposed solutions are still untested and unknown, but we can be certain that further exacerbating the underlying issue can only make the situation worse. On an individual level, we should all work to limit our personal contributions to rising global temperatures and habitat destruction. Saving the planet and life as we know it should be adequate motivators to combat climate change, but if that isn’t enough for you, think about the coffee and chocolate. References: Bordier, C., Dechatre, H., Suchail, S., Peruzzi, M., Soubeyrand, S., Pioz, M., … Alaux, C. (2017). Colony adaptive response to simulated heat waves and consequences at the individual level in honeybees (Apis mellifera). Scientific Reports, 7. Potts, S. G., Imperatriz-Fonseca, V., Ngo, H. T., Aizen, M. A., Biesmeijer, J. C., Breeze, T. D., … Vanbergen, A. J. (2016). Safeguarding pollinators and their values to human well- being. Nature, 540, 220-229.

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