Pollination is the transfer of pollen (male gamete) of the male reproductive structure of a flower (anther) to the female reproductive structure (stigma) of the same flower or of other flowers of the same species. This way, the male gamete reaches the female gamete (egg) and fertilizes it. This process allows the formation of fruits and seeds that, in the future, will produce a new plant.
In some cases, such as corn, wheat, and rice, pollen is carried by the wind. Other pollinators are water (in certain aquatic plants) and gravity.
However, in about 80% of all flowering plants, some animals are responsible for pollination. In most cases, among pollinating animals, none are more effective than bees.
Thanks to its pollen and nectar collection work, flying from flower to flower, bees pollinate the flowers and promote their crossbreeding. In addition to allowing the reproduction of plants, this work also results in the production of better quality fruits and more seeds. This entire process results in the base of a whole food chain.
Stingless bees and biodiversity
Stingless bees’ beekeeping dates back to ancient indigenous peoples who developed the basic management practices. This tradition comes from the large number of species that inhabit the Brazilian territory, estimated at more than 300 species.
Such variety, which translates into different body sizes, hues, floral preferences and different behaviors, causes the stingless bees (also known as meliponines) to be exceptional pollinators of high biodiversity areas, being used in environmental restoration programs for the rescue of the original flora. Stingless bees are important both ecologically and economically, as they are essential not only in natural ecosystems, but also in agriculture, either in the open or in greenhouses. They are important actors in the pollination of many crops – coffee, tomatoes, achiote, avocado, mango, coconut, strawberry, cucumber, pepper, and star fruit – annually contributing billiards dollars in the tropical region economy.
In addition, there is a growing economic interest in the various types of honey that stingless bees produce. These types of honey are increasingly required in the spice markets and gastronomic means.
Apiculture and large crops
The introduction of African bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) in 1956 and the subsequent crossing with the subspecies coming from Europe that had been introduced here, forming the poly-hybrid known as Africanized Honey Bees (AMA), completely changed the landscape of Brazilian apiculture.
In addition to extending the production and providing quality gain to honey and other derivatives, these bees also began to develop an essential pollination role in various agricultural crops such as apples, pears, citrus fruits, melons, kiwi fruit, and other fruits and vegetables.
Pollination is an environmental service that allows the maintenance of biodiversity, as well as being essential for the production of various foods. Thus, pollinators must be conserved for the sustainable increase of Brazilian agricultural productivity, as the fruits and seeds are the basis of the food chain.
Despite this central role in the agricultural scenario, there are still studies to measure the economic importance of pollination in Brazil. Just to give you an idea, in the US, where there is a demand regulated by pollination services, a year’s worth of pollination performed only by native bees, without considering the introduced Apis mellifera, is estimated at billions of dollars.
Besides the lack of economic studies, the Brazilian scenario suffers from a cultural problem, since few higher education courses (such as agronomy, animal husbandry, forestry or biology) approach the issue deeply enough. In most cases there is a much greater emphasis on new varieties, agrochemicals and new cultivation techniques, which leaves pollination processes in the background.
Although undervalued in the country, pollination has been used extensively in two crops of great economic importance: apples, especially in Santa Catarina, and melon, especially in the states of Ceará and Rio Grande do Norte. These crops use rented Apis mellifera colonies, which generates good business for beekeepers.
In other countries, there is a record of several producers who invest in landscape management, trying to make their properties more suitable to attract and develop natural or spontaneous populations of pollinators.
Note that some high economic value crops, such as soybeans and canola, can also increase their productivity levels if properly pollinated. According to some studies with soybean crops, this gain can reach 31.7 to 58.6% in the number of pods, 40.13% in weight of the pod, from 29.4 to 82.3% in the number of seeds, 95.5% in the viability of seeds and 9 to 81% in the weight of the seeds.