16 Jan 2017

NZ's pollination population

From Summer Days with Jesse Mulligan, 9:30 am on 16 January 2017

Pollination makes the world go round, and plants in New Zealand have evolved clever strategies to get the pollination services they require.    

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Photo: Flickr

David Pattemore is a pollination expert who studies New Zealand plants and the varied cast of pollinators that service them.

“I looked at pollination in New Zealand native forests and quickly discovered the complexities and the fascinating world of this bizarre interaction between animals and plants.”

Plants reproduce by conscripting animals to do the job for them. When an animal visits a flower for its nectar or pollen, it picks up pollen on its body. Then when it moves to another flower, that pollen transfers to the next flower and fertilises it.

“Pollinators are not looking to help the plant, just get resources, so plants have evolved strategies to twist the behaviour of pollinators to ensure they get the pollination they need.”

New Zealand’s pollinators are varied.

“The most well-known is the honey bee, a European species we brought to New Zealand for honey but also for pollination. We also have four bumblebee species in New Zealand.”

But it’s not just introduced species – many natives serve as pollinators, Pattemore says.   

“We have 30 species of native bees, small solitary bees. They’re smaller than a honey bee, often quite black, sometimes quite furry and that fur can be pale or orange.

“Native bees often have quite restricted times when they’re active. They come out in summer for maybe four to six weeks and then their activity dies down again.”

This country has quite a bizarre group of pollinators, from weevils to moths to flies, he says.

“Native flies are really important for crop pollination. For a lot of the seed crops in the South Island flies are a big contributor to their pollination – hoverflies, blow flies and drone flies.”

Birds too have a role – particularly tui, bellbirds and stitchbirds – and in the north of the country, bats.  

“There’s only a few places left where we have bats in high numbers, in Little Barrier in the Hauraki Gulf the pohutukawa there is almost entirely pollinated by short-tailed bats.”