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Friday, 22 December 2017 11:04

Pollinator conservation critical for protecting ecosystems

Written by  Saikat Kumar Basu
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Nevada bumble bee-Bombus nevadensis on Phacelia. Nevada bumble bee-Bombus nevadensis on Phacelia. Saikat Kumar Basu

Natural (biological) pollinators constitute an important aspect of our natural environment and ecosystems.

They are the corner stone in the process of natural gene flow in different plant species spread across diverse higher plant (angiosperms) families that are exclusively dependent on natural or biological pollinators for the purpose of sexual reproduction.
The most important task of all natural (biological) pollinators is to transfer pollens (pollen grains) from the anthers (male organs) to the stigma (female organs) of flowers for the purpose of reproduction in several higher plant (angiospermic) species through a process called cross pollination.
A large number of higher plants (angisoperms) either with single cotyledons (monocotyledons) or with two cotyledons (dicotyledonous) reproduce successfully through the process of cross pollination being strongly dependent on biological pollinators.
Although non-biotic factors like wind and air also help in the process of cross pollination in a number of higher plants; however, pollination by biotic factors like natural pollinators have always intrigued human minds from time immemorial.
Natural pollinators have been highlighted in the mythologies, superstitions, socio-cultural traditions, literature and arts cutting across cultures, ethnicities and geography around the planet.
When we talk about natural/biological pollinators the first thing that comes to our minds is the age old and well known honey bees. They not only help in the process of cross pollination in a number of food and industrial crops; but also produce honey and wax for multi-billion dollar global apiculture industry with a huge worldwide customer base. It is interesting to note that Alberta is the largest honey- producing province of Canada and is one of the strong hold of Canadian apiculture industry. However, natural (biological) pollinators are not just restricted to insects like honey bees; but also include other natural insect pollinators like the endangered native bees (Order-Hymenoptera), moths and butterflies (Order-Lepidoptera), some species of beetles (Order-Coleoptera) and flies (Order-Diptera).
In addition to insects (Phylum Arthropoda), members of the Phylum Mollusca (some species of snails and slugs); as well some species and sub species of birds (i.e. humming birds) and mammals (i.e. specific bat species) are also responsible for the cross pollination of different plant species. Other zoological taxa are also now being investigated for their role in cross pollination in different plant species. Some of these natural pollinators are active during the day time; while many others are nocturnal suggesting they are active during the night.
 They all perform or contribute towards the process of cross pollination in various species of plants while foraging for pollen and nectar; and by visiting/moving form one flower to another of the same plant or different plant, depending on the species being visited. The close and unique relationships between various plants and their specific or general pollinators have evolved over long periods of geological history; and have reached exclusive forms that are both fascinating and exciting to learn.
Dedicated researchers across the globe have worked extensively on the relationship between plants and their natural pollinators.
Rapid industrialization have changed the world we live in and like all other living organisms, all natural (biological) have been impacted too.
The worst hit has been the insect pollinators; and among them bees, particularly native bees have been hit hard due to a number of factors like environmental pollution, parasitic diseases, the lack of suitable foraging plants, changes in the land use patterns to mention only a handful. What so ever are the causal factors, the terminal effect has been rapid decline of several species of native bee populations in different eco-regions across North America.
Canada is not immune to this grave and alarming issue of insect pollinator decline; and has several native bee species that are threatened with extinction in the not so distant future.
Natural insect pollinators are responsible for cross pollination in several commercial crop species grown in Canada; hence their conservation is an utmost priority for securing our vulnerable ecosystems as well as for the future food security and economic prospects of Canadian agriculture.
It is important to develop ‘best management’ practices and reduce the use of toxic agro-chemicals in our agricultural production system to helps the native bees, honey bees and other natural insect pollinator populations to thrive in their natural ecosystems across the nation.
One of the environment-friendly, green and sustainable approaches for conserving the threatened native been populations could be establishing suitable bee habitats or bee sanctuaries or bee gardens within appropriate ecosystems under different agro-climactic zones. Use of suitable and locally adapted, bee-friendly pollinator mixes comprising of different wildflowers, native grasses, annual and/or perennial pollinator-friendly, forage crops with early-, mid- and late flowering plant species; catering to a wide diversity of bees and other insect pollinators can be a game changer by having a long and unending supply of pollinator plants to help them survive by supplying pollen and nectar across diverse seasons.
Bee sanctuaries could be established across unused or hard to access farm areas, ranches, pastures, farm perimeters; along natural or artificial water bodies, irrigation canals, shelter belts, home gardens, city and town gardens, lawns, parks and boulevards
It is important for scientists and researchers, academicians, farmers and crop producers, honey and natural bee wax producers, ecologists, foresters, agronomists, plant breeders, lawmakers and the ordinary citizens to come forward and work together on a common platform to help conserving the threatened native bee populations across the nation.
It is important for protecting our natural ecosystems and environment; and it is also important for the securing the future prospects of the Canadian agriculture and economy. Unless we protect our native bees now; it may slow turn into a catastrophe decaying our fragile natural ecosystems and impact our future livelihood, employment opportunities as well as food, feed and economic security negatively.  To secure our future interests; we need to act now.
Saikat Kumar Basu, Research Lead Performance Seed

Read 761 times Last modified on Friday, 22 December 2017 11:36