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The Forgotten Pollinators

by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan

292 pages, paperback, Island Press, 1995

In the The Forgotten Pollinators, Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan explores the vital relationships between plants and the animals. The authors present a lively and fascinating account of the ecological and cultural context of plant- pollinator relationships.

Praise for The Forgotten Pollinators

"In this stunning addition to conservation biology, the authors show that protecting plants without their pollinators is pointless. By remembering the pollinators for us, through affecting personal stories and deep knowledge told in memorable language, Buchmann and Nabhan give the gifts of timely understanding and hope that co-evolved systems might survive in all their complexity and elegance."--Robert Michael Pyle

"This detective story is so beautifully told that it leaves you reveling in the sheer wonder of the relationships between plant and animal, and determined to do something to keep this fabric intact."--Bill McKibben

Quotes from The Forgotten Pollinators

"If the Sonoran Desert borderlands were the only place in the world where habitat fragmentation has affected rare plants, we would hardly have cause for concern. But similar reports have been arriving in recent years from around the world. Izumi Washitani's careful work with a Japanese primrose, primula sieboldii, presents the most dramatic case of pollinator loss due to habitat fragmentation caused by urban sprawl. As Washitani and his colleagues have recently described, this perennial herb originally occurred:

in a range of moist habitats throughout Japan, but in recent years [it] has become endangered due to habitat destruction by human activities. In particular, its lowland floodplain habitats have been almost completely destroyed. . . . [However, one 10 acre area] of the moist tall grassland community in the floodplain of the Arakawa River in Urawa City adjacent to northwest Tokyo has been enclosed as a natural reserve since 1961. This site is inhabited by a remnant population of P. sieboldii. [It] suffers from severe limitation of pollinator availability because the reserve is surrounded by urban areas and golf courses which limit suitable habitats for pollinators.

"At the height of the flowering season, Washitani observed not a single insect visitor to 68 flowers over 16 hours of constant attention. The entire insect fauna of the reserve appears impoverished, but there is a particularly conspicuous lack of bumblebees, the most active pollinator of other primrose populations on the nearby island of Hokkaido. There, bumblebee queens still transfer pollen between the different-shaped pin and thrum flowers, ensuring high seed set. In the remnant habitat along the Arakawa River, however, seed set is not only more variable: it is negligible or altogether absent on some of the plants.

"The bumblebees may require pollen and nectar from additional forage when the primrose is not flowering, but these resources may not be available in the reserve. Moreover, insecticide use on the adjacent golf courses, or trampling of nest sites in the reserve, may have harmed the bumblebees. The primroses of Tajimagahara Reserve will simply not survive very long if their pollinators need other resources that cannot be found in the remnant habitat retaining the rare plant."

. . .

"The phenomenon of disappearing bees and diminishing plant reproduction has attracted enough attention that it has been given a name: the Allee effect. When a population's size drops below a certain threshold, it can no longer support its ecological associates and it will lose its viability. First elucidated among the microscopic organisms known as rotifers by the pioneering ecologist W. C. Allee, the principle clearly applies to rare plants that cannot sustain pollinators or seed dispersers necessary for the regeneration of their populations."

. . .

"If it is possible to detect even subtle effects of interspecies competition at flowers for pollen and nectar, then Australia is undoubtedly the best place to look. This is because of the southernmost continent's unique geological and biological history. Australia is populated by representatives of three immense plant families--the Myrtaceae (eucalypts), the Proteaceae (proteas), and the more familiar Leguminosae ('wattles' or acacias)--along with an overabundance of the euglossine colletids, the so-called membrane bees. . . . Further, Australian plants and their pollinators have evolved for millions of years not only in isolation but largely in the absence of highly competitive social bees such as camp-following honeybees. . . .[T]he native Australian bee fauna had never experienced anything like the onslaught of 'white man's flies'-- the introduced honeybees from Europe--upon their purposeful landfall 200 years ago. Australia is also unusual in having a large number of specialist birds, such as honeyeaters and wattle birds, that depend on bird-adapted flowers for much of their energy budget. . . .

"David Paton's examination of bottlebrushes (Callistemon) reveals that honeybees sometimes remove more than 90 percent of the floral resources produced by these plants. . . . The native bees . . . forage during the heat of midday when honeybees are much less active. Honeybees usually forage at lower temperatures, which gives them first crack at the large amounts of nectar present during early morning hours. This foraging lifestyle does seem to give honey bees a distinct advantage in most competitive interactions . . . But is the consumption of pollen or nectar by honeybees really detrimental to the lives of native bees in Australia? . . . Paton found that the honeyeaters were losing up to 50 percent of the available nectar to honeybees. . . . Paton also offers some interesting insights from the plant's perspective. Bottlebrush plants need cross-pollination to set appreciable levels of fruit. But honeybees working the flowers only struck the receptive stigmas 4 percent of the time they were studied. The larger honeyeaters, by contrast, hit the mark and deposited pollen grains more than half the time. Honeybees, moreover, rarely moved between adjacent plants. In short, they simply did not facilitate outcrossing to the extent that the birds did."

"In fact, the honeybee has perhaps had as much impact as cattle on the structure of certain plant communities. The debate between park preservationists and migratory beekeepers in Australia has much the same fervor as that between Earth First!ers and the Wise Use movement in the United States. . . . Honeybees are, after all, lilliputian livestock--fuzzy herbivores with wings."

Table of Contents of The Forgotten Pollinators

  1. Silent Springs and Fruitless Falls: The Impending Pollination Crisis
  2. Flowers: Waiting for Their Ships to Come In
  3. Pollinators: Waiting for the Bait to Pervade the Air
  4. The Perils of Matchmaking: Pollination Syndromes and Plant/Pollinator Landscapes
  5. Bees in the Bestiary, Bats in the Belfry: A Menagerie of Pollinators
  6. Fractured Fairy Tales: Disruptions in Fragmented Habitats
  7. Need Nectar, Will Travel: Threats to Migratory Pollinators
  8. Holding the Globe in Our Hands: The Relentless Pressures on Plants and Pollinators
  9. Keepers of the Flame: Honey Hunters and Beekeepers from Ancient to Present Times
  10. New Bee on the Block: Competition Between Honeybees and Native Pollinators
  11. The Little Lives Keeping Crops Fruitful: The Economics of Pollination
  12. Cultivating Lasting Relationships: Pollinator Gardens and Ecological Restoration

About Gary Paul Nabhan

About Stephen L. Buchmann

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