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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Pollination

Bees and flowering plants have a long relationship, developing together over the millennia in away that benefited both the plants and the insects and enabling both to survive better than they would have done independently. Cross pollination, which is the transfer of pollen (or the male genetic material) from one plant to the female part of another, allows genetic diversity which is highly advantageous to the plant in its eternal struggle for survival. Plants are unable to carry out cross-pollination themselves and so need the help of an outside agent. This is the role of pollinating insects.

To engage the help of a pollinating insect, plants must ensure that the pollinators are rewarded so they will come again and also visit other flowers of the same kind. The plants 'pay' for their pollination service by offering the visiting insects sweet nectar, which is an energy rich food source.  As it searches the flower for the nectar the hairy body of the insect is brushed with pollen from the stamens of the plant, and this pollen is carried to next plant visited. The pollen gets brushed off the insect's body onto the female parts of the plant forming a new seed to start the cycle of the plant's life all over again while the pollinator carries the nectar back to its nest to feed itself and its young.

Honey bees and other social bees that store a surplus of honey transform the nectar into honey by adding enzymes, changing the sugars into a simpler form, reducing the water content and storing the crop so that it will keep and does not have to be consumed immediately. For honey bees this transformation and storage of nectar allows them to survive across a wide range of habitats and climatic conditions making the honey bee one of the earth's most adaptable species.

People get a good deal out of this elegant natural system too. Pollination is the mechanism that allows us to harvest crops and seeds throughout the world. In many places in the world this service provided by the bees is so valuable to farmers that they pay beekeepers to bring their bees as a commercial pollination proposition. There is a surplus of honey that we are able to harvest. Other wildlife is sustained, maintaining the world's biodiversity while we get to enjoy the beauty of the flowers deriving from the plants adaptations of colour, shape, scent and petals that it uses to attract pollinators.  


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