Check out these Pollination Reources for teachers at the NBII! (National Biological Information Infrastructure) They currently have 78 lessons related to pollination and pollinators listed.
“The cacao flower, while only about the diameter of a nickel, is complex in design and behavior, necessitating a special kind of animal to pollinate it. Recent studies in cacao plantations indicate that midges, tiny flies that inhabit the damp, shady rain forest, are the only animals that can work their way through the complex cacao flower and pollinate it. A member of the same insect family as the “no-see-um” flies that plague us with their bites, this millimeter-long fly is from the family Ceratopogonidae and the genus Forcipomyia–a very tiny animal with a very long name. These cacao-pollinating midges are endemic not to plantations, but to the tropical rain forest itself.”
Sadly, the way in which we grow cacao actually contributes to low pollination rates, since the midges aren’t very happy away from the rain forest.
It’s National Pollinator Week, and here’s a neat site for you–a complete list, continuously updated, of crops of importance to humans that insects pollinate. Pollinating animals contribute to at least one out of every three bites we eat.
Some of the fruits and vegetables on this list are obviously recognizable. There are also crops that produce a product that we use, like Neem or cotton. And, of premier importance to scientists everywhere: COFFEE and CHOCOLATE!
Why not plan a menu that features only foods and recipes created with the help of pollinating animals? NAPPC has some suggestions that will highlight all that pollinators do for us:
Baked Pita Chips with Artichoke Dip
- Artichoke – bee
- Lemon Juice – bee
- Onions – bee and fly
Beef Brochette with Green Pepper & Tomatoes
- Beef – beef cattle are fed bee pollinated alfalfa
- Tomatoes – bee
- Pepper – bee and fly
Vanilla Ice cream with fruit/ chocolate sauce
- Vanilla – bee
- Raspberries – bee
- Strawberries – bee
- Cacao – A fly. This tiny animal brings you chocolate.
- Peppermint – fly and bee
And a little after dinner drink…..Tequila Sunrise
- Tequila -bat
- Orange juice – bee
- Cherry – bee
Ok, well, I guess you could have a cup of coffee, as an alternative.
I got an email recently from the Xerces Society about some senatorial action:
“Please contact your Senators and ask them to sign on to a letter by Senator Boxer in support of vital research on agricultural pollinators. …The deadline for Senators to sign on to this letter is Wednesday, May 6. Providing funding for research into the causes and remedies of honey bee and native bee declines is a critical step in pollinator conservation….
Senator Boxer has written a letter requesting that the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee allocate $20 million in Fiscal Year 2010 for pollinator research projects as authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill….to promote the health of honey bees and native pollinators through habitat conservation and best management practices.”
There is some additional coverage of Boxer’s actions here; including blurbs from May Berenbaum!
You can download a free PDF of “Using Farm Bill Programs for Pollinator Conservation” at the Xerces site; it’s a joint USDA-NRCS-Xerces publication. It discusses how existing farm programs (Conservation reserve, etc) can be used to promote native bee populations.
[Anna may or may not endorse the contents of this post; but had to link to Shiny! ]
The Bee Course is a workshop offered for conservation biologists,
pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater
knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees. From the course description:
“The field of pollination ecology explores the reproductive biology of plants in general, including the biotic and abiotic agents associated with pollination and seed-set. …the 20,000 species of bees worldwide play a dominant role in the sexual reproduction of most plant communities.
This course will empower students with 1) the confident use of The Bee Genera of North and Central America, 2) an appreciation for the biological diversity of bees, and 3) sufficient background to learn more about bees and investigate pollination and conservation problems with greater insight.”
The 2009 course will be held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Arizona, from August 31 to September 9, 2009.
Man, I wanna go!!
[thanks to da100foto for the lovely photo]
The Australian government has rejected an application for Bombus terrestris, the large earth bumblebee, to be imported. The bees were to be used in greenhouses for pollinating tomatoes.
This particular bee is considered an invasive species, and I have written before about bees in greenhouses not staying where they are supposed to. These domesticated bumblebees are believed to be responsible for the spread of a parasite that is now killing native bumblebees in the US.
“Large Earth Bumblebees are specialist pollinators of a number of European plant species, either because they require a bee of a certain size (e.g. foxglove, Digitalis spp.), weight (e.g. Scotch Broom, Cytisus scoparius), or require buzz pollination to release pollen from poricidal anthers (e.g. many Solanaceae). This may facilitate an increase in the abundance and distribution of weed species. The presence of the Large Earth Bumblebee may also disrupt pollination of native plant species.”
Basically, European weeds require European bees to pollinate them because of past co-adaptation. In the absence of these bumble bees, the spread of those weeds in Australia is limited. If you put the new bees into the system…that could help the introduced weeds spread even more.
There is also concern that the size of the bumblebees may cause competition and displacement of native species.
Yay to Australia for giving native bees a chance!
Thanks to Marcia Salviato for the image.
Following up on my earlier post about imported bumblebees escaping from their greenhouses and spreading pathogens in the native bee community, we have new research about how bees could facilitate the transport of genetically modified material from introduced, cultivated plants to native plants.
The research is related to the planned use of insect-resistant genetically engineered cowpea in Africa, where cowpea’s wild relative is widely distributed. While they don’t say this in the article, the cowpeas have a Bt gene inserted that kills caterpillar larvae. (It’s originally derived from a bacteria, and you can buy Bt over the counter in a variety of forms.)
So, it’s a biological control that will make pesticide sprays not needed–why isn’t this a good thing?
It is, BUT:
if the gene that makes the plants insect-resistant spreads and becomes very common, insects are much more likely to become resistant to it. And then our nifty, environmentally friendly tool is busted.
The scientists used radio tracking to follow the movements of carpenter bees (Xylocopa flavorufa), a big solitary bee, to see how far they flew. If the bees were homebodies, they might be less likely to spread pollen, and the new insecticidal gene.
“From complete flight records in which bees visited wild and domesticated populations, we conclude that bees can mediate gene flow and, in some instances, allow transgene (genetically engineered material) escape over several kilometers. However, most between-flower flights occur within plant patches, while very few occur between plant patches.”
So, while long distance foraging is relatively rare, it does happen, which means the gene will almost certainly be spread eventually (unless the plant produces sterile pollen). Making GMO plants have sterile pollen would be a really smart thing to do; it isn’t always possible though.
I have included the photo of a bee and her antenna from the paper, since it isn’t open access. Hopefully they won’t sue me, but I thought it was neat enough you’d like to see it.
Also, once again Science Daily screwed up and showed a photo of the wrong insect. This study was on carpenter bees, and they covered it with a honeybee photo. Grrr.
R. S. Pasquet, A. Peltier, M. B. Hufford, E. Oudin, J. Saulnier, L. Paul, J. T. Knudsen, H. R. Herren, P. Gepts (2008). Long-distance pollen flow assessment through evaluation of pollinator foraging range suggests transgene escape distances Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (36), 13456-13461 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0806040105
It’s Thursday of National Pollinator Week, and today let’s look at some other forgotten pollinators: flies. Specifically, carrion-fly and dung-flies that pollinate plants, a process called sapromyophily.
The flowers these flies pollinate produce smells mimicking decaying flesh, urine, or farts. These smells are created in part by the happily-named amines putrescine and cadaverine.
(Helpful Hint for Dudes: Do NOT give these flowers as a Valentine’s gift!)
Sapromyophilic flowers are commonly red to mimic meat, and some of them also produce heat, to further mimic decomposing flesh or a recently dropped turd.
Normally carrion and flesh flies lay eggs on a source of rotting protein; so many plants have tricks to keep the flies from leaving after they discover no actual rotting flesh to feed or lay eggs on. Some have downward facing hairs or compartments to trap the flies until they receive or deliver a dose of pollen.
The catchy name of “corpse flower” has been given to the largest flower in the world, which spells strongly like urine and dead meat. And there’s a reason the Genus is Amorphophallus. It’s a bit…suggestive….when fully, um, erect.
Please report back on how you are able to work the word of the day into a conversation.
I mentioned the book “Forgotten Pollinators” on Monday of National Pollinator Week, and I wanted to follow up on that today. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) hosts a Forgotten Pollinators Website to help focus interest on some of the lesser known migratory pollinators.
While pollinators in general are facing many threats, migratory pollinators are most at risk:
“While protection of plant/pollinator interactions is an emerging national priority, ecological conditions of migratory corridors for pollinators have received far less attention than conditions at wintering grounds in the south and breeding/birthing grounds in the north. “Nectar corridors,” a term first used by bat ecologist Ted Fleming (Fleming et al. 1993) specifically for pollinator corridors, are a distinctive type of migratory corridor comprised of a series of stepping stones placed in a dissimilar matrix. They are the migratory routes that pollinators follow in order to take advantage of a sequence of plants coming into bloom along a south-to-north gradient in the spring and the reverse in the fall.”
There has to be an actual sequence of flowering plants as the animals move north and south on their migrations. There also has to be safe roosting or resting sites for the animals as they travel.
A change at just one point in the migratory journey can spell disaster for a migrating population–and the plants they service:
“There is consensus among biologists that many migrant roost sites have already been lost, migratory corridor habitats have been converted or fragmented, invasive plant species are out competing many floral resources upon which these migrants depend, and many of the flowering plants these migrants visit are suffering low seed set due to pollen decline.”
While I am rather biased towards insect pollinators, ASDM also covers some of the mammalian and bird pollinators that are less well known.
If you live in a migratory corridor, consider planting some of the plants important for migrating pollinators.
This photo of courtesy of FreeSpirit5.
It’s National Pollinator Week, and here’s a neat site for you–a complete list, continuously updated, of crops of importance to humans that insects pollinate.
Some of the fruits and vegetables are obviously recognizable, and remember that clover and alfalfa are an important food crop for many of the animals we eat. There are also crops that produce a product that we use, like Neem or cotton. And, of premier importance to scientists everywhere: COFFEE and CHOCOLATE!
How much is all this worth?
Estimates vary, but the value is in the Billions. And that is just for bees–the estimates don’t include all the native pollinating insects, and other animal pollinators like birds and bats.
So thank a pollinator when you have lunch today, or get dressed this morning.
[And thanks to pouletsue for the photo of this bee on Aquilegia (Columbine). This bumblebee is actually cheating--she has chewed the spine of the flower and is drinking nectar from the side, rather than entering the flower. No pollination happening here, but the photo was so lovely, I couldn't resist.]