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Pollinator animals such as bees, birds, bats, butterflies, and flies are responsible for pollination of 75% of food crops we eat.
Pollinated crops include those that provide fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils. Many of these are important sources of vitamins and minerals.
List of the species pollinated by bees and other animals
Fruits: Apple, Mango, Avocado, Kiwi, Strawberry, Papaya, watermelon, orange , grapefruit, Coconut, Cantaloupe, Plum, Cherry, Peach, Guava, Pomegranate, Grape
Nuts: Cashew, Chestnut, Almond, Macadamia
Berries: Raspberry, Blackberry, Blueberry
Vegetables: Cauliflower, Cabbage, Broccoli, Onion, Potato, Turnip, Chilli pepper, red pepper, pumpkin, groud, zucchini, Squash, Carrot, Eggplant, Tomato
Legumes: Pigeon pea, Cajan pea, beans, Kidney bean, green bean
Oil: Canola, Mustard, Flex, palm oil
Fibers: Cotton, linen made from flax
Currently, the pollination services provided by the insects and other pollinators are free. However, scientists have estimated the values of pollination services in monetary terms. In 2020, the estimated cost of pollinator services ranges from $195-387 billion annually.
In recent times, there is a widespread decline in insect pollinators worldwide. Many pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, are being driven toward extinction by diverse pressures, many of them human-made. We are seeing entire bee colonies dying away at an alarming rate.
There are several causes of declines:
Habitat loss is one of the major culprits responsible for pollinator decline and impacts on their health. There is loss of abundance and diversity of flowers and decline in suitable habitat for them to build nets due to agricultural expansion and other human activities.
Exposure to pesticides: Pesticides are chemical compounds that are used to kill pests, including insects, rodents, fungi and weeds. But they are also harmful to pollinator insects such as bees. Pesticide groups such as Pyrethroids are particularly harmful to bees. Some bees die when they feed on these pesticides. They can also take the pesticides along with pollen in to their hives, which accumulate over time and eventually cause entire colonies to die.
Infection by parasites and pathogens, many of them accidentally spread by the actions of humans.
Climate change is also affecting the quantity and quality of floral resources for pollinators. There is increase in drought frequency which cause plants to produce fewer flowers with less nectar.
If pollinator animals such as bees become extinct, there would be major rippling effects throughout ecosystems. We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate and all of the animals that eat those plants in the food chain.
It will also dramatically disrupt human food systems.
While many plants such as cereal grains such as rice, wheat and soybean are wind-pollinated and are therefore unaffected by decline in pollinator populations, many fruits and vegetables, however, are insect-pollinated and could not be grown at such a large scale, or so cheaply, without them.
There are artificial pollination techniques using humans and machines to do the work of animal pollinators. Hand-pollination by humans is being used in some farms where bees are unavailable. But it is incredibly labor-intensive and expensive.
Robotic bees are also being developed that are tiny drones with cameras and sensors and fly flowers to flowers like bees. This is again very expensive and not accessible to everyone.
Even if we are able to have artificial means for pollination, we cannot let bees and other pollinators die from our human actions. They are part of nature just like us and have an important role to maintain the ecosystem.
There is a lot we can do to save bees and other pollinator insects. First of all, we need to reduce our use of pesticides and ban the harmful pesticides that kill pollinators.
We should protect wild and native habitat of the pollinators. In our landscapes, we can plant diverse plants making sure something is blooming each season.
Even in our homes and communities, we can do many things to save them.
We can create gardens that are safe for the bees. We can plant pollinator-friendly blooming plants without any use of pesticides. We can make such gardens in your backyard, windowsills, balconies and also roadsides. We can also let patches of land to grow wild letting grasses and wildflowers grow and make great nesting and feeding sites for bees.
Planting trees is also important. When a tree blooms, it supplies hundreds and thousands of flowers for bees and other pollinators.