Posts Tagged ‘pollination’

How Pollinators Feed the World

Pollinators are more than just bees. There is a whole variety of insects and animals that do this important job. Pollination literally feeds the world, from the plants meant for human consumption to the ones animals all over the globe depend on.

This article published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives us a refresher course in the mechanics of what pollination really is. It also gives some beautiful examples of some of the animals that make it all possible.

Original article published here.

 

Wings of Life

woodland swallowtail butterfly
A woodland swallowtail butterfly visits a buttonbush. (Photo: Rick Hanson/USFWS)

 

You may not realize it, but we owe most of our fruits, crops and flowers to animals. Yes, animals. All day long in the growing season, insects and other creatures carry pollen from flower to flower, fertilizing them in the process and helping to feed the planet.

Oh, sure, wind and water carry pollen, too. But their role is tiny, compared to the work done on the wing. Bees lead the pack as living pollen transport units. Other important pollen carriers — or pollinators — include flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds and bats.

So consider: When you help feed pollinators, you help sustain the world.

Watch a stunning video on the beauty of pollination.

a simplified look at pollination
The birds and the bees: An illustration offers a simplified look at pollination. (Credit: Kids Growing Strong)

 

Remember how it works? (It’s okay. We needed a refresher, too.) A stalk-like structure called the anther, located in the male part of a flower (called the stamen) makes pollen. For fertilization to occur, that pollen has to get to a flower’s female part, called the pistil (where seeds are made).

This is where a bee, bird, bat or other creature comes in. When the animal stops at a flower to feed on nectar or pollen, some pollen grains stick to its body. At the next flower stop, some of those grains brush off on the top of the pistil, called the stigma. Pollen grains on the stigma grow tubes down to the ovary, and fertilization begins. Mission accomplished.

Don’t worry. There’s no test. You can help feed pollinators even if you don’t remember the fine points of plant biology.  Every effort counts.

See a video on flower pollination.

A Hunt’s bumblebee collects pollen
A Hunt’s bumblebee collects pollen from rubber rabbitbrush at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

Bees are the ultimate pollinators — focused on their job and built for it, too. Other insects, while important to the process, move pollen more by chance.

“Bees are the only insects deliberately seeking pollen as a food; it’s their main source of protein,” explains Wedge Watkins, wildlife biologist at Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Missouri. “All these other animals are visiting the flower to get at its nectar. In the process of that, they stick their face or some other body part into the flower and accidentally get pollen on them.”

Bumblebees have developed an ingenious method to get pollen: They shake it loose by vibrating at just the right frequency — called buzz pollination. Some bees are specialists – able to use pollen from only one kind of flower.

Most bees also stock their nests with pollen to feed their young. “They store it in a variety of places — on their legs and on their abdomen,” says Watkins. “They carry it back to nest, mixed with nectar. They deposit it in ball shape and lay an egg on it. The egg develops into larva. The larva eats that pollen and pupates into an adult.”

Female bees do all the pollen gathering, and have hairy legs and abdomens adapted to the task. Male bees are thinner and much less hairy; their primary job is fertilizing the female and creating the next generation.

When you see bees buzzing in your wildflower garden – or around the flowers on your windowsill – it’s a sign things are going right.

A simplified graph charts the decline of honeybees
A simplified graph charts the decline of honeybees in the United States. (Chart: Scripps Howard Foundation Wire/Anna Giles)

 

For many Americans, the first warning sign that pollinators might be in trouble came from reports — beginning in 2006 or so — of losses  of honeybee colonies. Although honeybees are not native pollinators (more on this below), they face some of the same stressors as other pollinators.

These include habitat loss, disease, parasites and increased pesticide use. One group of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, arouses particular concern. These, in wide use since the mid-1990s, make whole plants — including their nectar and pollen — toxic to insects. In 2014, the National Wildlife Refuge System decided to phase out the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on refuge lands.

In response to the bee-loss reports, the U.S. Agriculture Department began conducting annual surveys of honeybee colony health in 2009. USDA surveys showed that the number of managed U.S. honeybee colonies dropped from 5 million in 1945 to 2.5 million in 2014.

For people more focused on the health of native bees, the picture is less simple. “We have little or no population data on the 20,000 species of native bees in the world,” says Watkins. This includes the 4,000 or so species in the United States.

Lamar Gore
A monarch butterfly feeds on showy milkweed at Seedskadee Refuge. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

The monarch butterfly, beloved by many, has become a symbol of pollinators in trouble.

For decades, hundreds of millions of the familiar orange-and-black butterflies flooded the continental United States and southern Canada each spring and summer upon their return from Mexico. Their population has dropped by as much as 80 percent in recent years. That decline has coincided with the widespread loss of their host plant (milkweed) and nectar sources (wildflowers) and the increased use of neonicotinoids tied to agriculture and development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with schools, communities and partners across the nation to plant more native milkweed and other nectar sources.

In August 2014, the Service received a petition to list the monarch under Endangered Species Act. The Service is expected to make a recommendation on the request by June 2019.

In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help.

One good first step: Plant some wildflowers. Even a pot of coneflowers can help.

“Making a space for wildflowers at any level is helpful to pollinators,” says Watkins. That holds true, he says, “whether you have a farm, a garden or you’re in an apartment in the city and setting out a pot of black-eyed Susans on your balcony or windowsill.”

While monarch caterpillars rely solely on milkweed for food, the adult butterflies feed on many different kinds of flowers. Ensure a continued nectar supply by planting a variety of flowering plants. Include plants that flower at different times of the growing season. Find out which plants are right for your part of the country here or here.

Brian Lubinski
A rufous hummingbird feeds at a flower at Seedskadee Refuge. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

Birds can be pollinators, too. In the continental United States, hummingbirds are especially important pollinators of wildflowers.

Hummingbirds seek out nectar-producing plants by color, not by smell. They’re attracted to the colors red, yellow and orange.

Perennial plants that attract hummingbirds include bee balms, columbines, trumpet creeper, daylilies, cardinal flower, sages and lupines.

Ricardo Colon-Merced
The lesser long-nosed bat is an important pollinator of cacti in the American Southwest. (Photo: Courtesy of Bat Conservation International/Bruce D. Taubert)

 

Surprised? Don’t be. Bats are important pollinators, too. “More than 520 flowering plants depend on bats as pollinators,” says Micaela Jemison, communications director for Bat Conservation International, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the world’s 1,300-plus bat species. “Many species of bats have elongated snouts and long tongues specially adapted to eating and dispersing pollen.”

In the desert Southwest, the agave plant relies mainly on long-nosed bats to pollinate its flowers. The tequila industry relies on the bats, too; without agave reproduction, there would be no tequila.

Read more about bats as pollinators here.

Read about some of the other animals that can be pollinators, too.

Lisa Hupp
A bee seeks out pollen from a coneflower. (Photo: Jamie Weliver/USFWS)

 

Honeybees are not native to North America. European settlers brought hives with them for honey production in the 1600s.  Today, commercial honeybees play an important role in the production of many important crops.

But many see honeybee decline as a danger sign for native bees and other pollinators.

“The reality is that because honeybees are an agricultural commodity, they have political horsepower,” says Watkins. “Without the attention being paid to honeybees, we probably wouldn’t have attention being paid to native bees.”

Reggie Forcine
The rusty-patched bumblebee, once common across much of the continental United States, received federal protection in March as an endangered species. (Photo: Dan Mullen/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

In March, Bombus affinis, aka the rusty-patched bumblebee, earned a dubious honor. It became the first bumblebee species to be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Once abundant across 28 states, the rusty-patched bumblebee has declined dramatically since the late 1990s. Now, only a few small, scattered populations remain in nine states and one Canadian province.

Placing the bee under federal protection, says Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius, “will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline” and save the bee from extinction.

LouAnn Speulda-Drews
Members of Girl Scout troops 5912 and 6149 display soil-covered hands after starting 80 native plants at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The 2015 planting was meant to help monarch butterflies and other native pollinators. (Photo: Lisa Cox/USFWS)

 

Restoring native habitat – including milkweed and wildflowers – comes naturally to national wildlife refuges. Refuge staff involve school groups and Scout troops in planting efforts. While kids get their hands dirty, they learn how they’re helping pollinators and why that matters.

Here are some Refuge System properties with pollinator gardens that you can visit.

Contact your local refuge to find out how your group can take part in a pollinator planting effort. Scroll down this page to see listing by refuge name or zip code.

LouAnn Speulda-Drews
In Philadelphia, Terry Williams from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum helps community activist Regina Young create a raised bed for a new neighborhood pollinator garden. Williams is the refuge’s Student Conservation Association community crew leader. Young is executive director of Empowered Community Development Corporation, a neighborhood nonprofit. (Photo: Lamar Gore/USFWS)

 

Many refuges also help local communities build pollinator gardens closer to home.

Working together with neighborhood partners, urban refuges in cities such as Philadelphia and Houston are using such projects as bridges to area residents who are eager for more connections to nature.

Want to help your community create a pollinator garden? Here’s how to get started.

campers conduct a water-quality sampling test
A student at Mountain Heritage High School in western North Carolina helps plant a pollinator garden behind her school, with support from the Service and several partners. (Photo: Gary Peeples/USFWS)

 

Many schools across the country are joining “Save the Monarch” efforts by creating pollinator gardens in their schoolyards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers help and guidance to some of these school efforts.

Save Our Monarchs, a Service partner, offers free milkweed and pollinator seed packets to all schools that sign up for its pollinator garden program.

 

Some resources on pollination:
Monarch Watch
Monarch Joint Venture
Xerces Society
Pollinator Partnership
Journey North
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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The Unseen Arms Race: Plants & Insects

There’s a war going on. One in our own backyards, right under our noses, but goes unnoticed.

It16299658_1239306876159478_7282972681855941421_o is the ongoing battle of insect versus plant.

Plants have a serious disadvantage when it comes to protecting themselves. They can’t move. They root wherever nature, or we, put them. If things change in the environment and conditions become less than favorable, they’re stuck. The same goes for predators, all the insects and animals looking to make a meal out of them. So how do you defend yourself when you’re immobile?

 

You develop spines, spikes or thorns, unpalatable hairs on leaves, bitter-tasting toxins and other chemical defenses, among others, anything to make you a less desirable target. The goal? To survive and reproduce.

Yet this isn’t the end. Just by developing ways of deterring predators it doesn’t mean you’re safe because the insects and animals attacking you are doing their own adapting, finding ways around them.

It’s this battle that leads to changes in both plant and animal species until they balance each other out, when one can’t outcompete the other.

It also leads to specialization, which is sometimes very beneficial to the plants. This is especially true with our pollinating insects. Flowering plants and insects have co-evolved, or adapted through time together, to best suit each other. The plants have created the best ways to lure in particular insects. These insects in return, have found the best ways to collect the plant’s pollen and nectar. The result is an ecological win-win, the plants get pollinated, the insects get food for themselves and their larvae. Both species benefit and thrive. There are good examples of this beneficial co-existence in this blog post by the Washington Native Plant Society.

So the next time you take a stroll through a park or a garden, take a closer look. There’s a lot going on all around you, all the time.

Article by Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance

Bees and Bats Get a Boost

There have been a couple noteworthy federal grants awarded recently that will benefit environmental research efforts. One was a $223,602 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant awarded to researchers at Western Michigan University to fund a collaborative research effort into white-nose syndrome in the hopes of finding a solution to combat the disease. The other was a $6.3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant awarded to Michigan State University to support native pollinator research and education outreach efforts.

These grants will hopefully bring great successes to two very different, but equally important issues. We rely on both bats and bees to keep our environment productive and balanced. Check out the details of these projects in the following articles.

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White-nose syndrome in bats subject of $223,000 grant awarded to two Western Michigan University professors

little-brown-bat-white-nose-syndrome.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Marvin Moriarty | United States Federal Wildlife Service

Yvonne Zipp | yzipp@mlive.com By  Yvonne Zipp | yzipp@mlive.comThe Kalamazoo Gazette
on July 11, 2014 at 10:30 AM, updated July 11, 2014 at 10:39 AM

KALAMAZOO, MI — Two Western Michigan University researchers have been awarded almost a quarter of a million dollars by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study white-nose syndrome in bats.

The $223,602 grant was part of an overall $1.8 million targeted toward eight projects across the U.S. focused on research and management of white-nose syndrome.

The fungal infection has killed at least 6 million bats in 27 states and five Canadian provinces since it was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006-07. Cases of white-nose syndrome were reported in northern Michigan for the first time this year.

“Bats are fascinating animals that are vital for a healthy environment. We are hopeful that these investments into research will get us closer to getting the upper hand on this devastating disease,” said Wendi Weber, co-chair of the White-Nose Syndrome Executive Committee and northeast regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a statement.

Maarten Vonhof, associate professor of biological sciences and the environmental studies, and Robert Eversole, master faculty specialist in biological sciences, will be heading the research at WMU. Timothy Carter of Ball State University and Kevin Keel of the University of California in Davis also will collaborate on the project.

The group will test the efficacy of chitosan, a compound obtained from the outer skeleton of shellfish, to limit the growth of white-nose syndrome — Pseudogymnoascus destructans — on experimentally infected bats. The compound prevents the fungus from growing and is a wound-healing accelerant that may help to limit damage to bats’ skin caused by the fungus.

Eventually, the research may lead to a treatment that is available for widespread use to treat hibernating populations of bats.

In all, eight projects in New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin received funding through the service’s Endangered Species Recovery and Science Applications program.

Since 2008, the service has granted more than $17.5 million to institutions and federal and state agencies for white-nose syndrome research, according to a press release.

“Scientists from around the world are working together to understand this disease, and to develop the tools to manage WNS and conserve our native bats,” said Dr. Jeremy Coleman, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s national white-nose syndrome coordinator. “Findings from past research have led to improved methods for detecting Pseudogymnoascus destructans, development of potential tools to slow disease spread and treat infected bats and the development of a national bat population monitoring program.”

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Published: Aug. 6, 2014

USDA awards MSU $6.9 million grant to help bees

 

Contact(s): Layne Cameron Media Communications office: (517) 353-8819 cell: (765) 748-4827 Layne.Cameron@cabs.msu.edu, Rufus Isaacs Entomology isaacsr@msu.edu, Jennifer Martin USDA office: (202) 720-8188 jmartin@nifa.usda.gov

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded $6.9 million to Michigan State University to develop sustainable pollination strategies for specialty crops in the United States.

“Specialty crops are valued at more than $50 billion every year, and pollination is critical to ensure successful fruit set and profitability of the industry,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “With the recent declines in pollinator numbers, especially honey bees, this grant is extremely important for the sustainability of the specialty crop industry in the United States, which produces the fruits, vegetables and nuts recommended by USDA for a healthy diet.”

The research and outreach efforts being supported by this grant will provide growers with information on pollination, pollinators and management practices that will keep their crops productive year after year, he added.

The grant was funded through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, part of the 2014 Farm Bill that was signed at MSU.

Rufus Isaacs, MSU AgBioResearch entomology researcher and extension specialist, will lead the project with the goal of developing and delivering context-specific integrated crop pollination recommendations on how to effectively harness the potential of native bees for crop pollination.

“This next stage of funding is essential for continuing the work of the team of more than 50 people across the nation who are dedicated to the goals of our project,” Isaacs said. “We have established and measured bees and crop yields in more than 100 fields at farms from California to Pennsylvania, some pollinated with honey bees, some with wildflower habitat added for pollinators and some augmented with other types of managed bees.”

The team will continue to monitor the fields and compare the performance, economics and social aspects of these tactics while developing educational and decision-support information for specialty crop pollination, he added.

These ICP strategies are designed to improve long-term sustainability of U.S. specialty crops and help ensure the continued ability of growers to reap profitable returns from their investments in land, plants and other production inputs.

Isaacs and the team will:

  • Identify economically valuable pollinators and the factors affecting their abundance.
  • Develop habitat management practices to improve crop pollination.
  • Determine performance of alternative managed bees as specialty crop pollinators.
  • Demonstrate and deliver ICP practices to specialty crops growers.
  • Determine optimal methods for ICP information delivery and measure ICP adoption.
  • Analyze economics and modeling of pollination ecosystem services.

 

MSU first received a SCRI grant for $1.7 million to begin this work in fiscal year 2012, the final year of the 2008 Farm Bill.

MSU’s team includes scientists from Loyola University, Franklin and Marshall College, Penn State University, University of Florida, University of Vermont, The Xerces Society, the University of California-Davis and UC-Berkeley, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and a private company, Pacific Pollination. The project also includes a large number of collaborating farmers providing in-kind support such as their land for conducting the research, and a diverse advisory board of stakeholders.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues affecting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit http://www.nifa.usda.gov.

Your Food Without Pollinators

What a grocery store without bees looks like

In an effort to promote awareness about declining bee populations, a market removes all the food that relies on bees from its produce department.
Mon, Jun 17 2013 at 1:30 PM

Related Topics:  Colony Collapse DisorderFarming & AgricultureHealthy Eating,Insects

 

Photo: Peter Waters/Shutterstock

While the spotted owl and grey wolf may be the poster children for the environment, the honeybee has been nudging its way in as the new darling.
And with good reason; honeybee populations are dwindling at an alarming rate, and nobody knows exactly why. The total number of managed honeybee colonies has gone from 5 million in the 1940s to only 2.5 million today. Winter 2012/2013 saw total losses of managed honeybee colonies at 31.1 percent, a figure higher than average for the last six years.
The USDA describes the situation — known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) — as a serious problem threatening the health of honeybees. Researchers are looking into potential causes in four areas: pathogens, parasites, management stressors and environmental stressors. Despite a number of claims in the general and scientific media, a cause or causes of CCD have not been identified by researchers.
What does this mean to us, the produce-eating public? One of every three bites of food comes from plants pollinated by honeybees and other pollinators. Without bees to pollinate our food, we’d have a third less variety of food to choose from.
To bring awareness to this potentially devastating situation, Whole Foods Market partnered with the nonprofit Xerces Society in the “Share the Buzz” campaign to protect pollinator populations. To illustrate the point, at the University Heights Whole Foods, workers temporarily removed all produce that comes from plants dependent on pollinators.
Produce section at University Heights Whole Foods with and without bees
This resulted in the removal of 237 out of 453 products – 52 percent of the department’s normal product mix. What’s missing? There’s a definitive lack of apples, avocados, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green onions, honeydew, kale, leeks, lemons, limes, mangos, mustard greens, onions, summer squash and zucchini — all foods that rely on bees.
“Pollinators are a critical link in our food system. More than 85 percent of earth’s plant species – many of which compose some of the most nutritional parts of our diet – require pollinators to exist. Yet we continue to see alarming declines in bee numbers,” said Eric Mader, assistant pollinator conservation director at the Xerces Society. “Our organization works with farmers nationwide to help them create wildflower habitat and adopt less pesticide-intensive practices. These simple strategies can tip the balance back in favor of bees.”
What can you do to help save the bees … and your avocados and mangos as well? Whole Foods suggests the following tips:
See the plight of a sad bee in the animated video below:
 ** The video could not be embedded from the original article, but the video was uploaded to the Michigan Water Stewardship website at the following address:  http://www.miwaterstewardship.org/educators/videos/viewvideos/videoid/232/share-the-buzz **
Related stories on how to help the bees:
Photo: Whole Foods Market University Heights’ produce department with and without items dependent on pollinator populations. (PRNewsFoto/Whole Foods Market)