The Toronto Club’s Biodiversity Team wants to create more awareness about the essential role of pollinators and their impact on the Niagara Escarpment and agricultural lands. With June 19-25 being Pollinator Week, it provides the perfect opportunity to write about this important issue. Our Biodiversity Team has also been hard at work planting pollinator-friendly flora, and spreading awareness about the crucial role bees and other pollinators play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
The collaboration between plants and pollinators plays a crucial role in the production of the food we rely on. In Canada alone, pollinators contribute to billions of dollars in agricultural output each year. Pollination isn’t limited to crops like fruits and vegetables; it is an essential process for nearly 90% of all plant species on our planet, contributing to the health of ecosystems worldwide. Without pollinators, scientists predict we would lose 75-95% of all flowering plants on Earth.
Plants provide pollinators with a source of food, such as nectar, while the pollinators inadvertently transfer pollen between flowers, aiding in the plants’ reproduction. This intricate ecological interaction is vital for maintaining biodiversity and sustaining ecosystems worldwide. A wide variety of animals act as pollinators, including insects, birds, bats, and even some small mammals.
Birds, such as hummingbirds and sunbirds, are known pollinators, especially in regions where flowering plants have evolved to attract them. These birds have long beaks and specialized tongues that allow them to reach deep into flowers for nectar. A bird’s feathers may get dusted with pollen as they move from flower to flower. Bats are also important pollinators, particularly in tropical and desert regions, where they visit night-blooming flowers and feed on their nectar. Bats have an excellent sense of smell and can locate flowers even in the dark.
By George Lennon
TBTC Biodiversity Team
Insects, however, are the animals that do the bulk of the pollination that affects our daily lives. Some of these insect pollinators, bees and butterflies, will be familiar to us. Butterflies, for example, have long tongues to reach nectar in tubular flowers. Other important insect pollinators, however, include moths, beetles, flies, and wasps. Beetles often rely on strong scents to locate flowers.
Among the most significant contributors to pollination are bees. Thinking of bees most often brings to our minds honey bees with their hives, colonies, and stingers. However, they are an imported species from Europe. Our native bees are equally proficient at pollinating, they do not swarm and generally, they do not sting. In fact, our native bees are believed to contribute significantly to the economic benefits commonly attributed to honey bees.
Native bees are often harder for us to notice or recognize than honey bees since they prefer solitary work and can be quite tiny. Nonetheless, Ontario has over 400 species of indigenous bees. Unfortunately, habitat loss, disease, pesticides and climate change have led to a decline in their populations.