Sunday, June 16, 2013

One Bite out of Three and Wildlife

So, we all agree that we owe one third of our food to pollinators. Now let us stop thinking about us; instead let us devote a few minutes to our companions on planet Earth. Does wildlife need pollinators as much as we do? It seems that nobody has looked at this matter systematically, thus, it is not an easy question to answer. Yet, we can try.

I will try to look at the diets of some feathered and furred creatures, mammals and birds and ignore for now the scaly or slimy sorts, amphibians, fish and reptiles. I will merely list the foods that need the services of pollinators, rather than attempting to estimate percentages for lack of information in the matter. What we are trying to see is whether wildlife requires the services of pollinators. Also, I will not bore you with long lists of animals and their diets, simply limit myself to some better known examples.

Birds that come to our backyard feeders are easy to observe. They show a preference for sunflower, thistle and peanuts. Summer and winter, many birds depend on berries, from blueberries to raspberries to crabapples to holly. Of course, not all their food is insect pollinated like the ones mentioned above. Many birds feed on insects and or grass seed. You can learn more about the role of pollinators on the diets of some of the most beloved songbirds such as wood thrushes and blue birds at the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign fact sheet.

Another common wildlife of our forests and backyards is the squirrel. The eating habits of squirrels are similar to ours as a look at the way they dig through our leftovers proves. When there is no human garbage around, they go through a variety of berries, seeds and tender leaves. It would be safe to conclude that they are as indebted to pollinators as we are. The same could be said of raccoons.

One animal that symbolizes wildlife more than most is the bear. Let as take a quick look at what a bear eats through the year. When it comes out of hibernation, there isn't much plant life around, except for skunk cabbage, and skunk cabbage becomes its breakfast, lunch and dinner with some Jack-in-the-pulpit as a side dish. A bear must have a strong stomach because these plants have tiny salt crystals that would make most other animals, including us, very, very sick. I mentioned in previous posts that skunk cabbage and Jack-in-the-pulpit are both pollinated by small flies, which are the only pollinators flying around so early in the season.

Other foods become available later on. A bear will add some vegetables to a wide range of other things. When fall comes and berries ripen, it is the time to eat berries. In areas where blueberries are abundant, a bear is likely to spend long hours in blueberry fields, gorging itself. Do I need to repeat that most berries are pollinated by insects?

The many herbivores, deer, bison, skunk, rabbit, may eat mostly wind-pollinated grasses; but they also need other nutrients that can only be obtained from flowering plants, from clovers to asters.

Finally, if you are wondering, even meat-eaters benefit from pollinators, since much of their food, the herbivores, feed thanks to them.

Now, we have further reasons to be grateful to pollinators. It isn't just us, humans, who are in their debt, but practically all other animals of our fields and forests.

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© Beatriz Moisset. 2013

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