Natural or biological insect local pollinators such honey bees, native (indigenous) bees, butterflies and moths as well as some species of flies and beetles are showing a serious decline in population around the planet, including South and South East Asia. This biogeographic region is home to five different megabiodiverse countries like China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines; hence is the home to spectacular biodiversity. Unfortunately, the decline in natural insect pollinator species has been reported in almost countries across South and South East including Pakistan. The bees are the worst impacted in Pakistan and adjoining countries among all the natural insect pollinators due to a number of important factors. The indiscriminate use of several toxic chemicals in the agricultural fields and production system by farmers and crop producers, rapid rise of human population together with industrial pollution, modern use of lands shifting from the traditional practices, several parasitic diseases together with lack of adequate foraging plant species for bees to find a consistent supply of nectar and pollens for maintaining the hives and appropriate nutrition levels
The gradual decline of insect pollinators like bees is alarming since they have direct implications on our future agricultural productivity and also on the stability of fragile natural ecosystems. It is important to note that a large number of crops and wildflowers are exclusively dependent on natural (biological) pollinators like insects, snails and slugs, small birds (humming birds), and mammals (like bats) for pollination. Among all these insect pollinators, bees perform the most significant role in the natural cross pollination of a wide diversity of crops. Under these circumstances, it is absolutely necessary that we conserve our precious insect pollinators to secure the future of crop production and apiculture industries. It is time for us to develop a long term, comprehensive, cost effective, and sustainable conservation model to protect natural pollinators.
There is a global need for establishment of Pollinator Sanctuaries, Pollinator Gardens or Pollinator Habitats at suitable sites by using appropriate custom-designed Pollinator Mixes. Such Pollinator Mixes could include selected native wildflowers and grasses as well as pollinator friendly annual/biennial/perennial forage legumes and grasses in different proportions suitable for various agro-climatic zones across Pakistan. Plant species selected for the mix must be flowering in sequence, one after another, to extend the pollinator (bee) foraging period; and provide them with adequate supply of nectar and pollen. Pollinator Mixes need to be developed based on appropriate agronomic parameters of the target growing region based on local agro-climatic conditions across Pakistan; and keeping in mind the local pollinator diversity and their foliage preferences.
Pollinator Mixes constituting of native wildflowers only, currently available commercially, are not a viable option due to their poor adaptability to local agronomic conditions, high yield fluctuations (based on locality and annual production variation), as well as high management and production cost. Suitable Pollinator Mixes could be used to create Pollinator Sanctuaries in Pakistan along farm perimeters, hard to access and unused areas of a farm, forest fringes, adjoining highways, boulevards and wetlands, city and municipal parks and gardens, golf courses, unused or agronomically unsuitable areas, remediation sites, and unused available sites in both rural and urban areas of Pakistan.
Development of suitable eco-friendly Pollinator Mixes for different agro-climatic regions in Pakistan could therefore have both positive ecological and economic implications in terms of ecological services and environmental cost-benefit ratio. Establishment of low cost, low maintenance, highly affordable dynamic natural ecosystems across Pakistan can cater to the nesting and foraging needs of a wide diversity of insect pollinators including honey bees and native (indigenous) bees.
Some of the major ecological and environmental benefits to Pakistan specific recommendations for creating artificial and/or natural Pollinator Sanctuaries are listed as follows:
- Long term production benefits for local and/or regional agriculture, forestry and apiculture industries.
- Pollinator Sanctuaries, once established, can slowly develop into highly biodiverse, complex, natural ecosystems.
- Well established Pollinator Sanctuaries will also attract several other local invertebrates and vertebrates (like small reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals) helping to conserve not just insect pollinators (like bees) but local biodiversity following a Multiple Tier Conservation Model (MTCM) that caters to not just insect pollinators like bees but a wide diversity of local species under one umbrella.
- Pollinator Sanctuaries, especially along roadways, would create natural pathways between various remaining natural “islands” so that species could move from one natural habitat to another and, thus, find food, nesting habitats and breeding partners to continue genetic diversity within species.
- Since forage species are included in the proposed Pollinator Mixes they could be used by ranchers as pastures for late fall grazing of animals.
- Pollinator sanctuaries, integrated with wetland development, can develop into suitable aquatic habitats for aquatic birds, especially if the accompanying water body is well stocked with fishes as apart of an Integrated Ecological Habitat Development for Bees, Birds and Fishes (IEHD-BBF).
- Mixtures of long and short grasses in the mix can attract both small passerine and ground nesting birds to Pollinator Sanctuaries over time which would add to the local biodiversity.
- The forage legumes in the mix would enrich soil quality through biological nitrogen fixation.
- Species like different Brassica members and salt tolerant grasses would help in phytoremediation of previously agronomically unsuitable areas.
- Gradual increase in the diversity of local insect pollinators and local biodiversity over time in a cumulative fashion.
Saikat Kumar Basu
Lethbridge, AB, Canada
Photo credits: Saikat Kumar Basu