What does a pollinator do?
Published 18/06/2015 | 02:30
Pollinators transfer pollen between flowers of the same species, which helps plants produce seeds and fruits.
Most flowering plant species benefit from animal pollination: some rely completely on pollinators to reproduce at all while others need pollinators to help them produce the best quality and number of seeds and fruits.
But what's in it for the pollinators? Flowers provide pollinators with food in the form of sugary nectar. Many plants also produce so much pollen that pollinators can eat/collect it without any harm being done to the plant. Pollen is high in protein and fat, so is a really good food for pollinators.
In Ireland, the principal pollinators of plants are insects, particularly bees and hoverflies. Many people don't realise that there are 97 bee species in Ireland. We all know of the honeybee which is farmed to produce honey. But there are also wild bees: 20 bumblebee species and 76 solitary bee species!
Honeybees and bumblebees live in family units known as hives. Within the hives there are workers who collect food and nurses who look after the young for the queen. Honeybees make copious amounts of honey and so are suitable for domestication by humans. Bumblebees only make small amounts of honey for use by the hive.
Solitary bees do not form large family units. Instead the pregnant female builds a small nest for her young, provisions it with food (pollen) and leaves the young to fend for themselves. All bees feed on nectar and pollen and so are excellent pollinators.
There are 180 hoverfly species in Ireland. Many mimic the colours of wasps and bees to avoid being eaten by predators. Hoverfly adults feed on nectar and pollen and so can be good pollinators. Their larvae feed on aphids and other pests as well as decaying plant and animal material.
Therefore, besides providing a valuable pollination 'service', hoverflies also provide pest control and waste decomposition services.