18 March 2009

hail the pollen jocks

I've long been a fervent admirer of animation. Growing up with a steady diet of Disney, it's hard not to be. The movies coming out of Pixar and Dreamworks in the recent past like Finding Nemo, The Bee Movie, Wall-E, A Bug's Life, Madagascar etc all have an underlying eco-message which is enchanting once you cut across the funny voices and outstanding imagination of the moviemakers.

There has been an extinction happening that few people know about and not many have noticed. Bee species across the world are declining in number due to habitat loss, insecticide use, temperature change, disease and other factors. Most people only connect bees with honey but there are nearly 20,000 known species of bees, in nine recognized families. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.

Bees are the major type of pollinator in ecosystems that contain flowering plants. They either focus on gathering nectar or on gathering pollen depending on demand, especially in social species. Bees gathering nectar may accomplish pollination, but bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are more efficient pollinators. It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees, especially the domesticated European honey bee.

The Bee Movie takes the concept of the lack of bees to a new level. Without giving away the plot (for those of you who haven't seen it) it shows the drastic consequences of what happens when pollination fails to occur. Since the movie is extremely colourful, funny and made in a way to keep even little children entertained, the consequences of no pollination is a message it gets across with litle effort. Even children cannot imagine a world without trees and flowers.

Already we are seeing drop in yields of agricultural crops and further drop in bee populations will make the situation drastic. Many fruit, nut, vegetable, legume, and seed crops depend on pollination. Some crops that require pollination are: apples, avocados, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, melons, oranges, grapefruit, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, tangerines, and watermelon. Also, forage plants like clover and alfalfa need pollination (cows feed on clover).

Perhaps the greatest value of honey bee pollination is seeds destined for worldwide distribution: 20 vegetables produce seeds only if their flowers are pollinated. Direct and indirect effects cannot be estimated: ornamental shrubs and trees, wild plants (on which wild animals and birds forage), beeswax, honey. Drop in bee population is going to have a direct impact on food production and ultimately global economy.

Scientist also say that the drop in population is also linked to the Bt toxin in GM plants which interfere with their systems leading to collapse of whole colonies - another reason to go organic. All of this only shows that human activities on the planet affect entire ecosystems with ultimate drastic effects on our survival as a species. The kingdom of heaven does indeed belong to the meek.

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