Pollination is the transfer of genetic materials between plants for production of seeds. Through the action of animals, wind, water, and even plants themselves, male genetic material is transferred to female structures resulting in new individuals. Flowering plants have coevolved with animals, mainly insects, for reproduction. Up to 90% of flowering plants and 1200 agricultural crops rely entirely on pollinators.
Pollinators are central to everything we do. They pollinate the fruits and vegetables we eat, the plants we use for fiber, the flowers we love, and pollinators are intricately woven into the fabric of nature. Pollinator numbers have declined and their survival is threatened by climate change, habitat loss, disease, pollution and pesticide use.
One third of the food we eat comes from animal or insect-pollinated crops. Many of these pollinators are managed European honeybees, an introduced species now naturalized in North America. Managed hives are often moved around to provide pollination services as crops in different areas begin to flower. Commercial, managed beekeeping is estimated to represent more than 20 billion dollars in economic value. However, native pollinators play an important role in some crops that are not serviced by honey bees, including squash, tomatoes, and sunflowers. Some bees are most active in the early spring or more specialized for a certain crop and help honeybees achieve better pollination and greater yields. Pollinators have formed specialized relationships with plants, and without that relationship, both the insect and plant species may perish.
The Pollinator Network at Cornell is a multidisciplinary group of researchers, cooperative extension personnel, and students that collectively work to understand wild and managed pollinators throughout New York, the United States, and the rest of the world. The network is committed to promoting and protecting healthy pollinator populations and a sustainable beekeeping industry.
Create habitat by considering these pollinator essentials.
When we think of pollinators, we may first think of bees. In addition to the honey bee there are 4,000 species of native bees in North America and over 426 bees native to New York State. Bees are in the same group as wasps and ants but differ in many ways. Bees can be social or solitary and some have complex biology. They feed on nectar and pollen provided by flowering plants and in return they pollinate by spreading pollen among plants of the same species. Specialized hairs on their bodies trap and carry pollen.
Some bees, like honeybees and bumble bees, are social, living in structured colonies with a reproductive queen and sterile workers. Labor and resources are shared among nest mates. Other bees are solitary, which means each female mates and raises a small number of offspring on her own, but often among members of her own species. Solitary bees are rarely aggressive or defensive the way social species are due to the need to protect the colony from marauding animals like bears. Learn more about Native or Introduced species for NYS.
Wild or Managed
Another distinction among bees is whether they are wild or managed. Honey bees have naturalized in North American and exist in the wild, but are also managed in hive boxes and bred by beekeepers for desirable traits. Other bee species can be managed, such as Eastern bumble bees, alfalfa leaf cutter bees and mason bees. However, most bee species are wild and while we do not manage them, we need to manage our landscapes in ways that protect, preserve and promote them.
Although less efficient than bees, butterflies are pollinators that move about quickly making up for the lower amount of pollen they transfer (not considered important in agriculture), while larvae are often pests of agriculture. However, larvae in the landscape are actually good biodiversity indicators. Purchase plants for the herbivorous insects.
Last updated January 31, 2024