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Pollinators key to Corpus Christi tradition

June 10, 2020

Since there is often a great deal of rainfall around the time of the Corpus Christi celebrations, gardeners in Trinidad and Tobago consider the day to be good for planting, as it is believed that anything planted on this day will thrive. In addition to the heavy rainfall, another very important element of the equation seems to be in peril.

Pollinators, the living organisms that transfer male reproductive cells to the female reproductive cells of flowering plants are declining globally at an alarming rate. While bees are important, other species also substantially contribute to pollination such as wasps, flies, ants, butterflies, moths, birds (especially hummingbirds), bats, and sometimes even other animals such as lizards and mice.

Pesticides and other activities affecting these pollinators not only exist in the national agriculture sector, but actions such as home pesticide use, over trimming of hedges and lawns and soil disturbance are some of the things we do in our homes that contribute to the devastating impacts on our local pollinators.

  1. Ministry of Planning and Development has responsibility for the environment and biodiversity is one element of this. What we have discovered is the more diverse the better. more different types of pollinators that are present, the better the pollination service. This also acts as insurance meaning that if one species is lost or temporarily disappears, others are there to pick up the slack.

From local experiments, complete pollinator absence was found to result in the decline of fruits produced by 88.1% for hot peppers, 96.5% for cucumbers and 86.2% for ochro. More work is being done by the Planning Ministry to determine the current state of our local pollinators and the possible impacts on our biodiversity and agriculture sector.

We do not know enough about our local pollinators, but the good news is that everyone can help.

 

How everyone can help at home to ensure successful Corpus Christi planting continues for generations to come:

 

  • Studies have shown that mowing your lawn less frequently results in having lots more pollinators present. If this can’t be avoided, setting aside an area for pollinators in your yard can help – leave this area relatively undisturbed.
  • Allow wild flowers to grow on your lawn. Again, the more diverse the better. When more different plant species with more different flowers are available, it increases the food source for beneficial insects such as bees.
  • Additionally, it helps prevent gaps – when many different flowering plants are present, flowering times are likely to overlap so that there is always some food for the insects.
  • Many pollinators don’t fly far and usually stay within 100m of where they live. This means that pesticides affect them significantly as they can’t evade them. Pesticides are generally a huge problem for pollinating insects and if you are planting crops, it’s better to use alternative pest control methods, such as intercropping with fragrant herbs to mask the smell of your crops.
  • Avoid the use of pesticides (including herbicides). This also goes for pesticides to maintain a well-manicured lawn. Pesticides such as malathion (and almost all others) are extremely harmful to pollinators. While some pesticides may not kill the insects directly, they may have other effects – such as reducing their ability to navigate or affecting their appetite or reproduction.
  • Plant hedgerows if you are close to neighbours that use pesticides. This will help prevent pesticides from drifting across to your field or garden.
  • Avoid disturbing the soil where and when you can. As much as 60-70% of bees are solitary and nest in the ground and tilling destroys their habitat and often kills their offspring. Most bees are solitary, only a few species live in colonies and produce honey.
  • Protect your land against fire. Solitary bees cannot move their offspring and the social stingless bee species of Trinidad and Tobago cannot move their hives as their queens are too heavy to fly, which means that they are likely to die in any fire that occurs.
  • Know your pollinators – many bee species are not what people generally think of as bees. Many are black or green and are often mistaken for flies. Wasps are also often very useful pollinators and additionally are very good at removing pests from your crops. They often have a bad reputation, but they are very useful to have around your garden. Many wasps are also solitary and do not build hives.
  • As much as possible, plant native plant species. These have coevolved with our pollinators and provide the best food sources for them. Native plants are also important to other animal species.