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Everybody and everything is helping pollinators

Around the globe, we hear with alarming frequency, honey bees are in decline due to mysterious diseases, climate change, pesticides and habitat loss. We all know pollinators are a diverse and very necessary part of our ecosystem.

Four years ago, I wrote a column for the Standard Newspaper which spoke to this troubling issue, and sadly, things have not changed much since that time. That said, across Canada and other parts of the world, people are building pollinator gardens, adding beauty and benefit to nature and, in particular, to our pollinators.

Without pollinators, in particular honey bees, all of our food crops would fail; it’s as simple as that! Recently, the federal, territorial, and provincial governments announced a new targeted beekeeper support program. This may sound like another government give-away with no value to nature, but I think that is a short-sighted view. One of the challenges beekeepers face is trying to produce a product in a market where costs and risks rise but returns are low. It’s often hard to stay competitive, from a financial perspective, but more so, it’s even harder to anticipate what might be necessary to enhance and protect the health of the hives under a keeper’s care. This new funding project is designed to try to address both issues.

The meat of the project includes matching funds of 50% for beekeepers with ten or more registered hives. Over half a million dollars was invested in the first pollinator assistance project, by the government, to support over 350 projects and more than 20,000 hives. Under the new partnership, $3 billion is committed to “strengthen and grow Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sectors.”

Monies granted to beekeepers can be used to: purchase equipment, to prevent the introduction and spread of disease, and enhance overwinter survival of bees; increase adoption of integrated pest management and other best management practices; manage biosecurity risks; and purchase domestically raised queens to assist in building the resilience of the industry. An interesting spin-off from the Covid crisis is, part of the funding can be used to develop websites for online sales, when people can’t shop in person.

The importance of this industry is reflected in the words of the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, who said, “Bees are vital to our food system and agricultural sector. Canada’s beekeepers need specialized tools to manage and enhance bee health. The Government of Canada will continue to support beekeepers and ensure they have access to the resources they need, as they adapt to new climate realities.”

In other news, even plants seem to be helping pollinators, and although their motives are selfish, the benefits to pollinators are real. Thermogenic plants are plants which can produce ‘extra’ heat in some of their parts, for example, in their petals. Temperature differences within a plant of 4 or 5 degrees Celsius have been recorded, where the petals are the warmest parts.

While most thermogenic plants are tropical, some can be found right here in our area. One of the best known is the Skunk Cabbage, a plant which emerges when the snow is still on the ground. The plant produces enough heat to melt the snow around it so it can generate the odours attractive to early-season pollinators, to ensure it can produce seeds. The benefit to the pollinator is simple, the environment around the host plant is less harsh than the rest of the habitat, so the pollinator can find both a ready food source and be protected to a degree from the colder temperatures elsewhere.

An interesting sidebar to this is, many thermogenic plants are also protogynous (sorry about the big words!). Simply stated, these are plants where the female parts of the plant develop before the male parts, ensuring pollination must occur between different plants, thus preventing inbreeding. Since each individual plant is at a different stage of development, plants simply can’t pollinate themselves because the male parts aren’t mature yet.

Nature never fails to surprise, plants melting their own snow and creating safe havens for pollinators. Wow!

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff online at LinkedIn and Facebook.

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