Pollinate Your Plate Part 1: A Nutritious Breakfast

Pollinator Plate Title

Over the next few blog posts, I will share with you a series of posters I created demonstrating what meals might look like if we eliminated all foods that benefit from animal pollination. I’d like to use these posts as an opportunity to explore this topic in greater depth than could be accomplished in the original posters.

The first poster, “A Nutritious Breakfast,” depicts which items of the most important meal come from animal pollinated crops:

The Most Important Meal

The Most Important Meal

While the reasoning behind some of differences between the two meals are obvious (such as the lack of honey holding together those delicious clusters of oats), others are a little more cryptic.

The Bees and the Berries

The Southeastern Blueberry Bee (<i>Habropoda laboriosa</i>) is a native, solitary ground nesting bee. It is a much more efficient blueberry pollinator than the European honey bee. On smaller farms, wild populations of this bee alone can pollinate the entire blueberry crop.

The Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa)

Most berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, benefit greatly from bee visitation. One scientific paper estimated that the efforts of a single Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa) resulted in a yield of about $20 worth of blueberries (Cane et al. 1997). I would imagine that, twenty years later, these pollinator services would be worth even more.

Amazing Almonds
By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAlmonds are another crop dependent on bee visitation. They are one of the main agricultural exports of California (the top almond producer in the world). The Almond Board of California estimated that this crop generates $11 billion/year and 104,000 jobs for the California economy. If you drive through the San Joaquin Valley in late January, you will be surrounded by a sea of white and pink almond flowers- 900,000 acres, to be more exact. At a rate of two colonies per acre, the almond industry is a major driver of the high demand for honey bee hives nationwide.

Osmia lignaria, photo by Kathy Keatley-Garvey.

Osmia lignaria, photo by Kathy Keatley-Garvey.

Blue Orchard Bees, or BOBs, (Osmia lignaria) are alternative pollinators of almonds. So named because of their metallic blue hue, BOBs are desirable almond visitors because they fly at cooler temperatures than many other bees (almond blooms in January or February). In addition, the presence of BOBs can cause honey bees to behave differently, which results in greater fruit yield than just BOBs or honey bees could achieve alone (Brittain et al. 2013). These solitary cavity nesting bees are also sometimes called “mason bees” because they collect mud to build the walls of their nests.
Cross section of a BOB nest

Cross section of a BOB nest

Pollinators and Nutrition
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that without animal-pollinated foods, your breakfast wouldn’t be as delicious. Believe it or not, your breakfast would be less nutritious as well.

Crops that benefit from animal pollination are responsible for 90% of the world’s supply of Vitamin C, and the antioxidants vitamin A flickrβ-cryptoxanthin and β-tocopherol. In addition, the majority of Vitamin A, plant-based lipids, calcium, fluoride, and a large portion of folic acid comes from animal-pollinated crops (Eilers et al. 2011).

Animal pollinators do more than just increase the quantity of nutritious crops. In some cases they increase the nutritional quality of the food as well. For example, in addition to being a good source of vitamin E, almonds are considered a health food because of their high levels of oleic acid. Bee pollination not only increases total almond yield, but also the ratio of oleic acid to linoleic acid in the resulting fruit (Brittain et al. 2014).

To summarize: Without pollinators your breakfast would be less colorful, less delicious, and less nutritious.

But wait! It’s more complex than that…

If we used our magic wand to remove all pollinator contributions from the produce section, some bins might remain the same, while others (such as avocados) would disappear. But most bins would just get smaller.

If we used our magic wand to remove all pollinator contributions from the produce section, some bins might remain the same, while others (such as avocados) would disappear. But most bins would just get smaller.

In these posters I categorized ingredients as either benefiting from animal pollination, or pollinator independent. But in reality there is much more of a gray area in between these two categories. Some foods, such as oats, don’t need pollinators at all. Other foods, such as honey, could not exist without bees. Most plant-based foods exist somewhere on a spectrum between oats and honey. Coffee yields are greatly increased by pollinator visitation, but coffee wouldn’t disappear completely without animal pollination (Klein et al. 2002).

The degree to which bee visits increase citrus fruit yield depends on the variety.

The degree to which bee visits increase citrus fruit yield depends on the variety.

To make things even more complicated, the level to which a particular crop is dependent on animal pollination often depends on which variety being considered. Most oranges used for juice do not need animal pollination, while other citrus varieties, particularly mandarin oranges, do benefit from bee visitation (Sanford 2015). We don’t know a lot about how much citrus benefits from pollinators in large part because orange blossom honey is so desirable that beekeepers will pay citrus growers to put hives in their groves.

Okay, hopefully the length and detail of information in this post haven’t discouraged you from reading this blog altogether! Up next is lunch: an apple, a chocolate chip cookie, and a slice of sausage and pepper pizza. You may have noticed that in the “without pollinators” photo, our granola is looking particularly dry. Stay tuned for an explanation!

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8 responses to “Pollinate Your Plate Part 1: A Nutritious Breakfast

  1. This is a very interesting and informative blog. I will thank these beautiful “busy bees” for making part of my breakfast nutritious. Talking about citrus plants, in the Philippines and in our backyard, we have what we call in Flipino as “kalamansi” and the tastes has been described as a cross between lemon and lime. I have seen a few bees hovering in our backyard and the kalamansi tree is bearing plentiful fruits. We use the fruits in a variety of ways- it makes a refreshing drink in the overly hot Philippine weather, marinade for meat and fish and as a “dip” (mixed with soy sauce) for broiled anything (seafood, meat chicken etc).In the Philippines, I am not so sure if bees are involved in pollinating this very useful citrus fruit. What factors are involved in whether bees can/will pollinate citrus fruits or not?

    • Dear Linn: Thank you for taking the time to ask your question! I had to look it up because I wasn’t sure,but according to one article written by A.C.M. Fajardo from the Philippines University and published by the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization, apparently calamansi (also known as “Calamondin citrus,” a cross between a kumquat and a tangerine) does benefit from bee pollination.

      When we think about pollination, there’s two perspectives we can use. We can look at it from the perspective of the pollinator or the plant. The pollinator does not set out with the intention of pollinating the plant, but rather to collect food (nectar or pollen), and the transfer of pollen is incidental to this task. From the pollinator’s perspective, it will only visit plants that are attractive in some way (in terms of scent, color, shape, or pollen/nectar reward). From the plant’s perspective, pollinators are only needed if the flower is not able to pollinate without animal intervention (many citrus varieties can self-pollinate and do not need bees, while others may benefit from bee help)
      Okay, hopefully that response wasn’t too long! I am a huge fan of kalamansi (especially the juice or on pancit), so thank the bees for an increased fruit set!

  2. Thank you for the response. I neglected to mention that I rarely see bees in my backyard in the US where I have a full grown calamansi tree. But perhaps i just don’t see them and that they are indeed there, pollinating the fruits. Is it possible that the fruits can grow plentiful without the bees and that with the bees, they just grow more fruits?

  3. This blog is very informative! I have citrus trees in my yard as well as flowering shrubs and when they all bloom–watch out! Bee heaven! I guess that’s my way of saying that every 6 months or so I get to see what the bees ‘bring to the plate’ so to speak. Can’t wait to read the next installment.

  4. Pingback: Pollinate Your Plate Part 2: A Filling Lunch | Diadasia

  5. This is really interesting. Since reading your blog, I have been more aware of what types of bees are in our garden. I have always enjoyed watching the bees go from one plant to another, but had no idea the magnitude of its work. Looking forward to reading your posts!

  6. This post is wonderful and so informative. Thank you for opening my eyes to all the different types of bees and how they help us enjoy the foods we eat every day. Looking forward to reading more, and observing cool bees!

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