By Sara M. Delgado Rivera
Plants are one of the main sources of food for humans and many other living organisms. They also absorb carbon dioxide from the air and give us oxygen through a chemical process called photosynthesis. In addition, they give us shade and delight us with their colorful flowers and leaves. The health and reproduction of plants are important to all of us!
Seed plants need both male parts and female parts to reproduce. When this happens, it starts the process that produces seeds, fruits, and finally a new plant. The male parts produce a dusty powder called pollen. This pollen needs to be transferred to the female parts in a process called pollination. A few plants can perform self-pollination, but over three-quarters of the flowering plants on earth need help with this process.
The work of transporting pollen can be carried out by wind, water, or different living organisms, called pollinators. Pollinators pick up pollen from one flower and carry it to another. There are a variety of living organisms that can perform this important work, including birds, bats, and other small mammals, but the most common are insects.
The most familiar type of pollinating insect are bees, but there are many other insects that also work as pollinators, and not all of them pollinate the same type of plants. Did you know that mango trees are primarily pollinated by a type of fly, known as a fruit fly? In addition to flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and even wasps are also pollinators.
Protecting pollinators is incredibly important to our survival. Farmers spend millions of dollars each year to make sure there are enough bees or other insects to pollinate their crops successfully. Insect pollinators are being affected by shrinking habitats and food supplies, due to deforestation and high urbanization, in addition to the atmospheric effects of global warming and the excessive use of pesticides and other poisons.
There are many ways you can help to conserve pollinators. Here are some tips:
- Make your own home garden or help to maintain or create a community or school garden that is friendly to pollinators. There are some organizations like P2 (Pollinators Partnership), that can help you choose the plants that will best attract pollinators in your area.
- You can consume honey and other organic products from local farmers to support them and their farms.
- Spread the word and teach others about the importance and necessity of protecting pollinators. We need them as much as they need us!
Sara M. Delgado Rivera is a chemistry professor at University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, University of Sagrado Corazon, and University of Ana G. Méndez, Carolina Campus.