Pleistocene Pollinators

The media sure likes to generate panic.  It must be good for ratings.  Recently, American media outlets offered wall-to-wall coverage of the Ebola virus, a danger that eventually killed 2 or 3 people in the United States from a population of over 300 million.  During slow news cycles the media seems to always find some obscure disease of the month to fill air time.  Another constant well of media anxiety is anthropogenic-influenced climate change, even though its worst effects won’t be felt in our lifetimes, and there’s nothing we can do about it, unless people are willing to give up affordable electricity and cars.  A few years ago, media pundits started peeing in their pants about colony collapse disorder.  Without honeybees (Apis mellifera) they claimed there would be no pollination of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.   The world would have no fresh produce, and we’d be stuck with a boring diet of wind-pollinated grains.  In some regions their fear has come true.  In upstate New York colony collapse disorder wiped out so many honeybees, bee keepers were unable to provide any hives to help pollinate some apple orchards.  There was no loss of production. Orchards produced just as many apples without honeybees as they did with them.  Orchardists realized they’d been duped for decades by bee keepers into thinking they couldn’t grow fruit without paying for the rental of bee hives.

There are 140 species of native leaf cutter bees, including the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria), a species that is considered a better pollinator than non-native honeybees.  Moreover, there are many species of native bumblebees, butterflies, and wasps that pollinate flowers.  Native bees are such effective pollinators that honeybees were not missed at all.  As long as some natural areas are left in the vicinity of gardens and orchards, there will always be enough native pollinating insects; and honeybees will be completely unnecessary.  No need to worry about colony collapse disorder–many species of native bees are solitary and don’t nest in colonies.

Osmia-lignaria----WEB

Blue orchard bees are more effective pollinators than honey bees.

Southeastern blueberry bees and bumble bees pollinate my blueberry bushes.

Bumble Bee Queen

Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens)

I marvel at the lack of critical thinking among reporters and media pundits who are so quick to form opinions without realizing how illogical their conclusions are.  Europeans brought honeybees to North America 400 years ago, but before then, Native Americans successfully grew fruits and vegetables dependent upon insect pollination.  They farmed squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and plums.  Honeybees are just 1 species out of thousands of insect pollinators in America, yet the media know-it-alls led people to believe a nightmare scenario of no fruits or vegetables.  Not a single pundit during the panic of colony collapse disorder even realized honeybees are a non-native invasive species.  Usually, invasive species are another topic of unnecessary panic frequently reported upon by the media.

Thousands of species of American plants have depended upon insect pollinators for millions of years–ever since the evolution of flowering plants. The fossil record of these insects is scant.  When rare circumstances do occur that preserve ancient insects, the remains are usually so fragmentary they can’t be identified at the species or genera level.  Some nests of a species of leafcutter bee (M. gentillis) were found in the La Brea tar pits, California.  The same species still lives in the region today.  Studies of Pleistocene insects determined individual species adjusted their range according to fluctuating climate cycles, but no known large scale extinctions occurred during this era. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/using-fossil-beetle-assemblages-to-determine-temperature-ranges-during-the-late-Pleistocene/) The insect pollinators we find in our yards today are the same species that lived during the Pleistocene.

Reference:

Bjerga, Alan

“Betting on Nature to Solve the Bee Crisis”

Bloomberg Business Week May 18-24, 2015

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One Response to “Pleistocene Pollinators”

  1. Apple Pollinating Bees and Rare Varieties of Southern Apples | GeorgiaBeforePeople Says:

    […] of fruits and vegetables because of colony collapse disorder, are completely unfounded. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/pleistocene-pollinators ) In North America the honeybee (Apis mellifera) is a non-native invasive species.  The decline […]

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