functioning of a whole ecosystem as keystone species which maintain the structure of a specific habitat. Plants pollinated by various pollinator species are healthier, produce larger and more nutritious fruits, and have higher yields. In this way, they serve an important role in generating sources of nutrition for many species including us. According to the study of Cornell University, thanks to pollination U.S. farmers earned up to $29 billion in 2010. However, there are many other ecosystem services that pollination performs for us. These processes include water purification, carbon sequestration, organic matter degradation, all of which are of the utmost importance for our wellbeing and health.
Let’s have a closer look at the environmental benefits of pollination.
A staggering 80% of all flowering plants require pollination to reproduce¹. Without pollination, there would be just a small fragment of flowering plants on Earth, and much less facilitators of carbon sequestration. Flowering plants utilize the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for growing through the process of photosynthesis. During photosynthesis they release oxygen as a waste product of their metabolism. You can read a more detailed description of this process in our article: “How Do Plants Make Oxygen?“.
The water cycle consists of many complex physical processes, and one of them is the process in which plants return moisture from the soil into the atmosphere through transpiration. Plant transpiration makes up to 10% of total moisture content in the atmosphere, with the other 90% coming from evaporation from water surfaces². A fully grown tree can transpire as much as 760 liters (200 gallons) of water per year. Intact forests, therefore, affect local climate by contributing to cloud formation and the amount of precipitation over the area³.
Biodiversity stimulates health, resilience, and the productivity of ecosystems. Without pollination there would be significantly lower diversity of flowers, crops, grasses and trees. To get a better idea, imagine life without foods the majority of us takes for granted such as apples, onions, cherries, or potatoes. And this is just a small fraction of goods that would disappear, if there was no pollination. Needless to say, the animals and insects which are dependent on many of these plants as their source of food and shelter would go extinct along with the plants in question.
Water for Drinking
Vegetation cover helps to slow down the rain falling on the ground. This is extremely important not only as it prevents soil erosion, but also for replenishing groundwater levels. By decreasing runoff from the surface, more rain water is actually soaked up through the soil and ends up in natural groundwater reservoirs. During this process, water passes through different layers of soil that retain many compounds, heavy metals, or microbes from it. This hydrologic process is a key natural mechanism for purifying water rendering it safe for drinking.
Research carried out by Elisabeth Eilers and her colleagues in 2011 reveals shocking facts about the decline of pollinators and link to the availability of key nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. According to their data, 98% of vitamin C comes from vegetables and fruits that depend on common pollinator species. Similarly, essential to our body vitamin A is found in around 70% of pollinated plants. And it is not only vitamins that we obtain from plants, some minerals such as calcium, or fluoride that our found in nuts and vegetables represent irreplaceable part of our diet as well.
Since the beginning of time, humans have been dependent on a variety of plants for food, medicinal purposes, shelter, or fuel. Some plants have played a very important role in our traditions, and even though we do not realize it very often they have helped shape the modern culture. The study of Ethnobotany simply investigates the way in which native plants have been used by different cultures over the centuries. This encapsulates the wisdom of our ancestors about the co-existence of humans and other living creatures on this planet. Without the process of pollination, the cultural importance of plants would be much poorer.
This list is just a brief summary of services that pollinators perform quietly on a daily basis without us even noticing. It is an extremely important process, that makes life on this planet rich, healthy and diverse. Perhaps it is time to learn from this brilliant complexity and harmony between plants, animals and their environment which is occurring naturally just outside our door.