Pollination is an important step in plant reproduction. Very simply put, it is the movement of pollen from the stamen (male part of the plant) to the pistil (female part of the plant) which allows for fertilization and seed production to begin. Some plants can pollinate on their own, but many plants rely on pollinators. In fact, one-third of the produce you see in the grocery store comes from plants that rely on pollinators to reproduce.
What is a pollinator?
A pollinator is an animal that helps a plant distribute pollen to other plants. These animals include insects like bees, wasps, butterflies, bats, some birds and small mammals, and many others. Pollinators help with plant reproduction, but also with increasing genetic diversity by moving pollen around to plants that are farther apart.
Why do animals pollinate?
For millions of years, plants and pollinators have evolved together to form a mutual relationship. Plants attract pollinators by providing nectar; a sweet reward to drink while they brush against the flowers. This is when pollen can fall off the flower and get stuck to the pollinator, who then carries the pollen to the next flower. Plants have evolved many traits to attract pollinators such as bright colours and fragrant smells. Some flowers have patterns in the ultraviolet spectrum which can only be seen by insects, and other flowers mimic a perspective insect mate to attract pollinators without even providing a nectar reward! Some plant species have evolved alongside only one specific pollinator species, which is called obligate mutualism.
Honey bees and pollination
Honey bees are very efficient pollinators. When workers go out to forage, they prefer to collect pollen and nectar from one nectar source at a time. This is beneficial for the plants because it increases their chances of receiving pollen from their own species which is needed for successful reproduction. Honey bee communication makes their pollination ability even better because they can recruit many of their nestmates to forage on the same plant species together.
Wild bees and pollination
Other bee species play a very important role in pollination as well. Depending on the type of plant, they can even be more effective pollinators than honey bees. Bumble bees, for example, use a technique called “buzz pollination” to shake out pollen from flowers. This removes more pollen than a regular visit, increasing the chances of pollen being spread to the next flower. Wild bees and native pollinator conservation is extremely important. Without them, much of our native ecosystem and agricultural crops would go unpollinated.