If you're moving pollen from one plant to another, you might be a pollinator. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes: butterflies, beetles, birds, bats and even humans. The only job requirement is that they transfer pollen from stamen to pistil (a flowering plant's male and female organs). As pollinators visit flowers to drink nectar or feed on pollen, they move pollen from flower to flower and help plants reproduce. Pollination is an ecological service -- a role an organism plays in its ecosystem that is essential to human life. Bees are some of the most important crop pollinators. They increase production of about 75 percent of the crop species. When we think of bees, we tend to think of fat, fuzzy, black and yellow insects buzzing around the flowers in the garden. But fuzzy bumblebees don't have a monopoly on ensuring that flowers bloom again and blossoms turn into fruit. Across North America alone, there are more than 4,000 wild bee species of all shapes and sizes, from the fluffy bronze Tetraloniella davidsoni to the iridescent emerald Agapostemon texanus. Researchers have found that this staggering biodiversity -- besides making our gardens and countryside beautiful -- is critical for many types of ecological services, including pollination. A NSF-funded research team revealed just how important pollinator biodiversity is for crops in a recent study conducted across dozens of watermelon, cranberry and blueberry farms in the mid-Atlantic United States. Though many farmers use domesticated, nonnative honeybee colonies to help with crop pollination, researchers estimate that wild pollinators provide half of the crop pollination services worldwide.
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