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What is a pollinator?

A pollinator is an organism that assists a plant with pollination, which is vital to plants’ reproduction. The word “pollinator” is perhaps most widely associated with insects, but pollinators can also be birds, humans or other organisms that help transfer pollen from a stamen to a pistil. However, the most effective pollinators are insects. Different plants have developed different strategies for attracting insects by means of their colour, scent and nectar supply. Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid. Insects also collect pollen because it provides nutrition for their larvae.

Insects and plants have evolved in close symbiosis over millions of years and are, in principle, dependent on each other for their survival. They cannot survive without each other. Some insects depend on a single plant, known as a host plant, for their species’ survival. Examples include the large bellflower bee and the small tortoiseshell butterfly. This makes it crucial to preserve biodiversity, as we don’t know what consequences the extinction of insects would have. What we do know for certain is that a third of the food we eat is directly dependent on pollinating insects. Research shows that oil-producing plants yield a 20 percent larger crop if the pollinator population is healthy.

Tomato growers buy bumblebee nests to keep in their greenhouses to increase their crops. They are sold extensively by a small number of major suppliers. Bumblebee factories that ship globally pose a potential risk of spreading harmful insect viruses. Such viruses can cause pandemics that impact many species of insects, and weaker populations risk extinction.

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