Our ecosystem is full of animal and plant species. But have you ever thought about how our world would look like if any one of these species goes missing? For instance what would have happened if there were no bees or they go extinct? Some of us may be misled in to concluding that they only thing we miss would be honey. But this is a sheer mistake. If there were no bees, there would be no fruits, vegetables and many of the crops we eat. It may be boggling idea how bees are interconnected with all these vital sources of food. The idea is bees are among the animals that play a big role in plants reproductive process called pollination.
Pollination is, a fundamental process for the survival of our ecosystems. Nearly 90 per cent of the world’s wild flowering plant species depend, entirely, or at least in part, on animal pollination, along with more than 75 per cent of the world’s food crops and 35 per cent of global agricultural land. Not only do pollinators contribute directly to food security, but they are key to conserving biodiversity.
“Bees and pollinators are responsible for pollinating about 75 per cent of the crops that humans depend on for food, particularly fruits and seed crops” says Abram Bicksler, an agriculture officer with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In nature, the vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if animal pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Without this service, many interconnected species and processes functioning within an ecosystem would collapse. With well over 200,000 flowering plant species dependent on pollination from over 100,000 other species, pollination is critical to the overall maintenance of biodiversity. Approximately 80 percent of all flowering plant species are specialized for pollination by animals, mostly insects.
Insects and other animal pollinators are vital to the production of healthy crops for food, fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products. The commodities produced with the help of pollinators generate significant income for producers and those who benefit from a productive agricultural community. Pollinators are also essential components of the habitats and ecosystems that many wild animals rely on for food and shelter.
Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food. They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.
Imagine living in a world without flowers or fruit or even coffee or chocolate for that matter. Thanks to the wonderful work of pollinators like bees, much of the food we eat and flowers and plants we enjoy are possible.
It is estimated that more than 1,300 types of plants are grown around the world for food, beverages, medicines, condiments, spices and even fabric. Of these, about 75 per cent are pollinated by animals. More than one of every three bites of food we eat or beverages we drink are directly because of pollinators. Indirectly, pollinators ultimately play a role in the majority of what we eat and consume.
Pollinators are vital to creating and maintaining the habitats and ecosystems that many animals rely on for food and shelter. Worldwide, over half the diet of fats and oils comes from crops pollinated by animals. They facilitate the reproduction in 90 per cent of the world’s flowering plants.
Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities. Present species extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal due to human impacts. Close to 35 percent of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, and about 17 percent of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats, face extinction globally.
“Climate change, habitat loss, over use of pesticide are factors, along with diseases and pests” says Bicksler, about the threats posed against bees and other pollinators.
“We should be very much worried about it. There is a major decline happening not only on bees but also other insects in general. One of the big things is that we still lack basic data on lots of pollinators. So we are losing species that we don’t even know” Bicksler added.
If this trend continues, nutritious crops, such as fruits, nuts and many vegetable crops will be substituted increasingly by staple crops like rice, corn and potatoes, eventually resulting in an imbalanced diet.
Intensive farming practices, land-use change, mono-cropping, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change all pose problems for bee populations and, by extension, the quality of food we grow.
In agro-ecosystems, pollinators are essential for orchard, horticultural and forage production, as well as the production of seed for many root and fibre crops. Pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, plus many plant-derived medicines in the world’s pharmacies.
There is evidence that populations of native and managed pollinators are in decline, and the loss of benefits derived from them is being felt by the agricultural community. Human activity such as urbanization can lead to habitat fragmentation or destruction. Changes in agricultural practices and the use of broad-spectrum pesticides can disrupt or destroy long-established pollinator habitats. Other factors leading to pollinator decline include disease, and the spread of invasive plant species.
Food security, food diversity, human nutrition and food prices all rely strongly on animal pollinators. This is particularly the case of horticultural crops. Diversification into horticultural crops is becoming an avenue to poverty alleviation amongst many farmers around the world.
BY STAFF REPORTER