By: William Greer
Have you eaten any fruit today? An orange, an apple, some strawberries? Maybe some cashews? Have you ever thought about how these foods are produced? Hopefully you have. But do you know what helps to produce them? There is human labor involved, but the majority of the production of these foods are done by pollinators. Pollinators, which you may have thought as the pesky bugs crawling and flying around, are extremely important to the ecosystem and life on earth. 1/3 of all the food we eat was produced because of pollinators1. If you take that away, you are losing a vital part of not only our diets, but also the diets of all animals, omnivores as well as herbivores. Yet, these pollinators are facing numerous problems, and humans are the main factor of these problems. If these problems can’t be solved, then the world risks losing one of its vital parts of the ecosystem, and that fruit that you ate this morning might not be there in the future.
Pollinators are biotic agents that move pollen from the stamen (male part of the flower) to the pistil (female part of the flower), which causes the flower to bloom and the fruit to grow. The range of edible plants pollinators pollinate is very large, from nuts to fruits, pollinators are vital to the production of these foods2. There is also a wide range for the animals that are pollinators. Beetles, butterflies, bees, and even wind and water. But the most effective pollinators are bees, which are undoubtedly the most important pollinator. From solitary bees to hive living European honeybees, bees live almost everywhere, and there are a lot of them, but far less recently then there should be. Honeybees travel from flower to flower collecting nectar (which is later turned into honey), and pollen grains to feed their queen and young, as well as themselves. When they do this, some of the pollen grains are transferred from the bee to a different flower than the one they collected the pollen from, which pollinates that flower. Because many bees travel between flowers, hundreds of flowers are pollinated wherever bees go. For these reasons, bees are leased and used by many farm owners to pollinate their crops. Even when you don’t have a hive near flowers, doesn’t mean bees won’t go and pollinate those flowers. They work tirelessly, sometimes traveling up to 5 miles to find food for their hive3.
Given how helpful these pollinators are, you would think we’d try our best to keep them safe and in abundance so we can continue to enjoy their amazing work? No. While we’re trying to rid our farms and gardens of insects like termites and other pests by spraying pesticides, we’re not just killing our intended target, but everything in the area we’re spraying the pesticides. Pesticides are designed to kill and eliminate anything that we don’t want, but even with our advanced technology, we can’t control what dies from the result. All pesticides are dangerous, but especially neonicotinoids are worse for bees. Neonicotinoids are insecticides that are derived from nicotine, which as many people know, is used in cigarettes, and is highly toxic to insects, as well as being toxic to mammals too. Neonicotinoids include the insecticides imidacloprid and dinotefuran, which are two of the often used and are very toxic insecticides. So toxic, that the European Union banned the use of them in Europe. Neonicotinoids have been found to increase a disease that happens to bees called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)4. CCD has killed millions of bee hives, and we can’t figure out how to reverse it. Instead of trying to fix the problem, we’ve just added to it. As many as 10 million dead bee colonies and 400 billion bees have been killed as a result of pesticides5.
Even here in Oregon, we’re contributing to these problems. Last summer, an estimated 50,000 bumblebees died in a Wilsonville parking lot because of an incorrect application of insecticides6. Bee populations have been nose-diving in the recent years, to the point where some species have become extinct, and other species may become extinct in the near future.
But many people have been taking action, trying to fix this problem we’ve created. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has passed bills requiring labels on insecticides that contain imidacloprid and dinotefuran, and have been trying to spread awareness about this problem7. Many other organizations, such as the Xerces Society8, have been taking action and providing information and help to get people involved and engaged in helping our pollinators.
I’m a 14 year old 8th grader at Rachel Carson School of Environmental Science, and 8th graders at my school are a lot different than 8th graders elsewhere. We design our own unique community service project to help out our communities, from restoring native areas to helping fight hunger. My community service project focuses on strengthening bee habitats in my community. As I’ve said, bees play an extremely vital role in our lives’ as well as the life of almost everything in the world. I’m helping our pollinators by constructing nesting sites for bumblebees and mason bees, planting native plants that pollinators are attracted to, and spreading the importance of pollinators, the situation they are in, and how people can help. My research and work has shown me the importance of everything in a system, and how if parts of a system start to fail, so does the whole system. My work has also showed me how the fate of the future of not only our lives, but the lives of everyone on the planet lies in our hands. We have become so powerful that we have created our own world in which everything we do has both a positive and negative impact on something else. By creating better transportation, we can now reach almost anywhere we want in a very short amount of time, but this transportation negatively impacts a number of things, including our environment. By spraying our crops with pesticides to kill pests, we enhance the appearance of our crops and the quality of our crops, but we also harm beneficial insects by doing so. What this means is that we have to be careful with the power that we possess, and work to strengthen the beneficial things in our world, and work for a better future. There have always been people doing this, and that’s why the world progresses forward.
And you can help too. By taking three simple steps, we can all help to reverse these problems plaguing our pollinators. Avoid using pesticides, create pollinator friendly areas with habitats and plants for bees to pollinate, and raise awareness on this problem. Tell your friends family, and neighbors, because if we all take action, we can help create a strong ecosystem for our pollinators, and a strong future for all.
2Attracting Native Pollinators Xerces Society Book
3 Attracting Native Pollinators Xerces Society Book