Purposeful partnerships: Saving our Species + pollinators

Pollinators come in many shapes and sizes – but all play a vital role in keeping life on earth alive. This month we spoke to some passionate pollinator professionals about the birds and the bees (and bats), how they contribute to biodiversity and a healthy environment and some ways we can help them do what they do best.

Blue banded bee (Amegilla cingulata)

Pollinating animals travel from plant to plant transporting pollen on their bodies. Pollen has the genetic material from parent plants and pollinators carry that pollen to flowering plants, that may vary in distance, increasing the genetic diversity throughout its distribution. Roughly one in every three bites of food you eat – including countless fruit, vegetables and nuts – are there due to pollinators. Not only do these incredible creatures help tickle our tastebuds every day, they also pollinate plants that stabilise soils, clean our air, supply oxygen and support wildlife, as well as contribute to a robust economy through contributing to crop production. So, as you can see, they’re pretty special – and the experts we spoke to this month think so too.

Bees

Bee hivesTo give us some insight into the role bees play in the spectacular phenomenon that is pollination, we had a chat to Gather By Co-Founder and CEO Matt Blomfield. Gather By is a closed-loop regenerative agribusiness producing Australian medicinal and therapeutic honey for the local, national and global market.

For Matt, biodiversity is sowing the seeds of life, “it shows us you can’t have one living thing without the others”. Learning about food security inspired him to get involved in conservation. He explains how discovering ways of generating income, whilst creating environment for bees was the ‘lightbulb’ moment. “Securing the food base is essential for the survival of humans and there’s so much to do, housing pollinators is a logical first step”, he said.

Bees are essential players in a healthy environment, “from European bees, to the 1700 natives, these pollinators influence every human and animal”, Matt says. When asked about some ways everyday people can help bees thrive, Matt said avoiding the use of toxic pesticides is something for all of us, as well as planting local, native plants as bee food is a great start. 

Matt’s favourite bee fact: foraging honey bees have better navigation algorithms than Google and they even do a little ‘waggle dance’ to show other female bees who are paying attention the direction and distance to fly to find food sources or new homes when swarming.

Birds

Regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia)Although they might not be the first creature that comes to mind when you think of a ‘pollinator’, birds also play various roles in contributing to a healthy ecosystem. We recently spoke to NSW Woodland Bird Program Manager for BirdLife Australia, Mick Roderick, about all things birds. Mick explained that one of the roles birds undertake most effectively is the dispersal of seeds and pollen – an essential aspect of the pollination process.

Mick was inspired to get involved with conservation after learning about ecological functions and how fragile the ‘natural balance’ is. “There are no coincidences in nature and everything we see before us not only happens for a reason, but has evolved over a VERY long time”, he explains. For Mick, biodiversity is the intricate and amazing “web of life” that thrives off natural variety in order to be self-sustaining. “Pollination is one of the most important cogs in the biodiversity wheel because plants are fundamental to biodiversity both in their own right, and as habitat for other plants and animals”, Mick explains.

To help support these winged beauties and foster this web of life, Mick’s advice is both simple and profound – encouraging people to observe and learn from birds in their natural habitat.

Mick’s favourite bird fact: A Wandering Albatross will spend the first 9 to 10 years of its life exploring the oceans and not ever come to land! "The bird which made the breeze to blow”.

Bats

Grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)Like birds, many people don’t realise that flying-foxes (fruit bats) are pollinators too. Bat expert Dr Kerryn Parry-Jones spoke to us this month about flying-fox’s role in the ecosystem, explaining how they are long distance pollinators and seed dispersers, who are major contributors in keeping biodiversity high in native forests. Flying-foxes have been radio-tagged travelling more than 50km each way a night and thousands of kilometres in a couple of days and, as a result, their wide-ranging pollination can make significant contributions to the biodiversity of Australian forests.

To Kerryn, biodiversity is “the richness of species living in any one particular location – the number of species, the variety of species and the genetic variety of the species all contribute to biodiversity”. After doing volunteer work with Hooper Swans in Scotland in 1984, Kerryn wanted to do her PhD on their ecology during summer breeding season; however, her supervisor advised her to do a mammal instead – suggesting flying-foxes. She soon found there was there was very little knowledge about them (even now, these bat-lers are still largely misunderstood!). “It was like a huge puzzle that was crying to be solved – I was hooked”, she said.

The greatest threat to flying-fox survival is habitat destruction and the resultant food shortage, so Kerryn suggests that everyday people can support flying-foxes and the wider environment by working in various ways to reduce the current rates of habitat destruction and to replant native food trees.

Kerryn’s favourite flying-fox fact: Flying-foxes have amazing knee joints – they can clean their teeth with their toes and can hold a piece of fruit on their chest while they eat around it.

Find out how Saving our Species is working to secure a future for plants and animals in NSW – including our pollinators.