[Street noise; thumping music]
Jill Pritchard: What's your favorite food?
SLU Student: Uh, pasta.
Jill Pritchard: Pasta. What about you?
SLU Student: Uh, beef.
Jill Pritchard: Beef? Did you guys know that you wouldn't have either of those without the pollination from bees?
SLU Student: Really?
Jill Pritchard: Bees are responsible for one in three bites of food that we take.
SLU Students: Cool. [Showing agreement]
Jill Pritchard: Bees are, bees are just really, really important, and I want you to save all of them.
SLU Student: Okay.
Jill Pritchard: Okay? Promise me you will?
SLU Student: I'll try.
SLU Student: [laughing]
Jill Pritchard: All right. Thank you.
[Birds chirping; thumping music; owls hooting]
Jill Pritchard: Hey there, and welcome to Nature Boost, the Missouri Department of Conservation podcast that brings people and nature together. I'm your host, Jill Pritchard. In our pilot episode, we talked about nature's effect on our mental and physical health. Spending time outside has shown to decrease stress and anxiety while increasing our overall happiness. For our second episode, I want to continue that conversation surrounding nature and our wellbeing but with focus to another part of our health-- our nutrition.
Think about what you consume each day. Like these St. Louis college students you heard me interviewing, the majority of us love to eat pasta, pizza, burgers, tacos. I mean, I could probably fill up an entire episode just talking about the stuff I love to eat and drink. Margaritas, anyone?
But whatever your daily menu looks like, you most likely have a pollinator to thank for it.
Erin Shank: We underestimate how important pollinator health is to our own health.
Jill Pritchard: Talking with MDC's Erin Shank is always a treat. This urban wildlife biologist is passionate about pollinators. When we say "pollinators," we're talking about animals that move pollen from the male part of a plant to the female part causing fertilization which makes plants produce fruit or seeds.
Erin Shank: Sometimes, wind can do this. Sometimes, water can do this, but many plants, about 75% of our plants in North America require some sort of pollination by an animal.
Jill Pritchard: These pollinating animals include birds, bats, and butterflies, but the most popular-- [buzzing].
Erin Shank: Bees are the premier pollinators of the North American temperate zone, so this vast part of the continent that we're in the middle of right now, bees are the most important animal pollinator that we have.
Jill Pritchard: Why are they the most important?
Erin Shank: So, there's a couple of reasons why bees are such amazing pollinators. One is that, um, they seek out pollen on purpose, so rather than, say, a wasp, which is a carnivorous insect, is visiting flowers in order to prey on other insects. It might accidentally transfer pollen across a flower. A bee is purposefully collecting that pollen in order to feed its young. They do care for their young, so bees will make pollen sacks for each one of their developing larvae. They collect that pollen on purpose to bring back to their nest.
Um, and because they are so dependent on, or their young are so dependent on that pollen sack when they're developing, bees have really evolved to collect pollen in many ways, so they're covered in fur, and the bumblebee is kind of the teddy bear of the bee family, and it's very furry, and that's in order to allow it to collect more pollen. They also have apparatuses on their bodies so kind of baskets almost either on their abdomens or on their legs where they can stuff the pollen in in dense packs.
Jill Pritchard: So they are storing it there.
Erin Shank: Yes, so they are adapted. They have all these physical adaptations. They are also strict vegetarians, so um, again, whereas wasps and beetles and flies, many of them will drink the nectar from a flower and then prey on other insects, sometimes as well, bees live a very strict vegetarian lifestyle, and so they really are dependent on those flowers for their food.
[Music: Flight of the Bumble Bee]
Jill Pritchard: Bees are a misunderstood species. We've all seen someone swat them or even done so ourselves for fear of being stung, but I'm here to assure you most bees are harmless. They'll leave you alone as long as you return the favor. And FYI, most of their stingers aren't even long enough to penetrate human skin. There's a good talking point for your next cocktail party.
So, we now know that bees are great pollinators because they intentionally seek out pollen, and we know they're efficient at it because their bodies are built for collecting pollen, but why should we care about what Erin calls "premier pollinators"? Well, these tiny insects have a huge impact on our diet.
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: Do you like salsa?
Jill Pritchard: I love salsa.
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: Without bees, you wouldn't get any salsa.
Jill Pritchard: None?
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: None whatsoever. Not a one.
Jill Pritchard: That's Erin's colleague, St. Louis University Biology Professor Dr. Geraldo Camilo, really putting my weekly taco Tuesdays into perspective. Erin introduced us at Dr. Camilo's bee lab where he and his students study bee pollinators in urban environments.
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: About a third of our calories come from bee pollinated plants. And the bulk of our calories come from grasses, you know, corn, wheat, which are not, those are wind pollinated. Grasses tend to be wind pollinated. But the thing about rice and wheat and corn is they have a very low nutrition. And second, they're bland. I mean bland as bland. As I said, give me salsa any day of the week and, you know, twice on Sundays. Uh, and the reason why they taste so good is because that's where the nutrition comes from. You know, things that taste bland is just calories. It's carbs. And you need a lot of that to fuel your metabolism. But for building muscle, for eyesight, your vitamins, your minerals, healthy immune system comes from your nutrition. And nutrition is coming from plants that have a lot of color, you know, the tomatoes, the chiles, the onions.
Jill Pritchard: Vitamins and minerals.
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: Exactly. The cilantro. And all that is bee pollinated. So somewhere in the ballpark of 70 to 90 percent of your nutrition is bee pollinated.
Jill Pritchard: I don't think a lot of people realize that.
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: Hmm.
Erin Shank: It's a little alarming to realize how totally dependent we are on this life form for our own well-being.
Jill Pritchard: Absolutely!
[Vegetable crunching in background.]
Jill Pritchard: And we are totally dependent. Bees are responsible for foods like apples, nuts, coffee, chocolate, strawberries, lemons, coconut. The alfalfa bee pollinates the food our dairy cows eat. So, without them, we wouldn't have milk, cheese, or ice cream. And it's not just us humans who rely on bees.
Erin Shank: In the natural world, you quickly learn when you're studying any, any system in the natural world, that if you pull on one thread, you find out it's attached to all the other parts. And I feel like that really plays out, almost in like operatic fashion, with bees because if you eliminate bees from the landscape, you realize that this is not just going to impact humans and our food sources, but think of all the birds. Think of all the other insects whose larvae depend on, on feeding on these plants that are, that are bee pollinated. And then think, you know, outside as you expand on that food web all the other ...
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: Oh, yeah.
Erin Shank: ... impacts to, to our wildlife and our plant communities. And you realize very quickly, oh wow. We better take care of these.
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: Um-hmm. Yeah.
Erin Shank: These bee populations.
Jill Pritchard: After the break, we'll talk about Missouri's bee hotspot and discuss concrete ways we can all help our powerful pollinators.
[Recorded voice:] A deadly hitchhiker is threatening our forests. Serial tree killing insects like the emerald ash borer are moving in from other states, hiding in firewood, catching a free ride. Millions of ash trees have fallen prey across the nation. [Suspenseful music.] Campers beware. Stop tree killers. Do not move firewood. Buy it locally. Burn it where you buy it. And don't bring any back.
Log on to missouriconservation.org. Search firewood.
Jill Pritchard: OK, what about burgers? Do you guys like burgers?
SLU Student: Oh burgers. Does that come from bees, too?
Jill Pritchard: Yeah, burgers. Uh-huh, because when you think about it, bees pollinate the alfalfa that cows eat. So, a lot of dairy we wouldn't have without bees, too, like cheese.
SLU Student: It all goes back to the bees.
Jill Pritchard: It really does.
Jill Pritchard: So, it makes you think twice about bees, huh?
SLU Student: Yes, definitely.
SLU Student: Yes, ma'am.
Jill Pritchard: All right, save the bees, guys.
SLU Student: For sure.
Jill Pritchard: Thank you.
Jill Pritchard: Welcome back to Nature Boost. We're discussing the big role bees play in our nutrition. These tiny insects pack a big punch when it comes to pollinating the food we eat every day. Missouri has more than [sound of buzzing bees] 450 different species of bees. But the surprising fact is that big city St. Louis is home to a big portion of them. There are around 200 bee species that call the Gateway to the West home. So why is one of Missouri's largest cities the best place to find a diverse bee population rather than, say a rural area? Well, one answer lies with its diverse residents.
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: We have a very large, diverse community of immigrants, you know. And what we have found is that when you have urban farms, when you have different cultures, you, you develop a palette for certain food. And therefore, you're going to grow that food. You know.
Jill Pritchard: And in turn, that brings in...
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: Different bees because different bees require - different plants require different kinds of bees.
Jill Pritchard: That's sort of beautiful in a way.
Erin Shank: It is.
Dr. Gerardo Camilo: So, what we see, for example, in International Institute Farm South, which is, oh God, a half a mile from here, if that, you have an immigrant from southeast Asia and from eastern Africa. Especially, so the one from eastern Africa, they plant the okras. You know, they plant these large purple okras, and they plant the beans, the large string beans and whatnot. These flowers have very specific morphology. So, honeybees cannot pollinate them. So, you bring them the leaf cutter bees for the various, uh, legumes and for like the okra is the same family as the hibiscus in the [unclear 11:34.] So, you need a large bee. You know, the honeybees can go in and out and never touch the anthers. But you get the hibiscus bees can go in there every now and then, and you get the big bumblebees that get in there. So, you end up with these centers of attraction. So, you get all, you know, I said you build it and they will come. You know, in this case, you plant it and they'll come.
SLU Student: I think it's like common in our generation that a lot of people are sharing the importance of bees and other pollinators.
Jill Pritchard: Well, I'm really happy to hear that.
SLU Student: You can walk around campus and actually, a lot of people with, the laptop stickers, a very common one is "Save the bees."
Jill Pritchard: Oh, really?
SLU Student: Um-hmm.
SLU Student: Well, and I have to wonder. I know that there's a big, like, there's a bee lab here. So, I bet it's a lot of students who, you know, maybe partake in that area of study.
SLU Student: Yup. She's got her bee.
SLU Student: I love that bee sticker! "Bee kind." OK, awesome. So, you guys already knot about the Bee Mission.
SLU Student: yes.
SLU Student: All right. Thank you.
SLU Student: No problem.
SLU Student: Good luck with midterms.
SLU Student: Thank you.
Jill Pritchard: So, bees, huh? Their role in the ecosystem is crucial not only to the health and well-being of humans, but to the health of wildlife. If we lost them, we'd lose many of the plants they pollinate and many of the animals that eat those plants. Our grocery stores could lose their inventory of fruits and vegetables. People would starve. And the economy would suffer. Bee populations are decreasing for a number of reasons, including things like habitat loss and pesticide use. But thankfully, there's something each of us can do to support bee health and habitat in both rural and urban settings.
Erin Shank: What we can do to help assure a healthy future for diverse bee populations is plant flowers. And think about native flowers, especially, and plants that are not treated with neonicitinoids. That's really important to read the label on your plant, that it has not been treated with one of these pesticides that are systemic and will continue to, the plant will continue to produce that pesticide throughout its entire life. So, planting native flowers and a diversity of native flowers will help support a diversity of native bees.
Jill Pritchard: You can also help bees by being lazy. Sounds too good to be true but let me explain. Common lawn weeds like clover and dandelion are really important food sources for bees. So, by being a little lazy and not mowing your yard as often, you're providing vital nutrition for bees, which in turn allows them to provide it for us. You can also change other lawn practices, such as mulching. Not all bees live in hives like the honeybee. There are many species that are ground nesters, meaning they create underground homes. You may have come across them if you spot mounds of soil, kind of similar to anthills in your lawn. By leaving some bare ground, you're providing bees access to the soil to excavate their nests. And if getting your hands dirty isn't in the stars for you, there are still ways you can make a difference.
Erin Shank: Even just supporting those conservation practices in your community. So, if you don't have a backyard or you don't have space for native plants on your patio or out in your yard, supporting those activities in your community can go a long way as well. We're seeing that folks want to see more natural landscapes in their public and green spaces. So supporting those entities that are putting those practices, um to work, and putting those plants in the ground is also something that you can do. There’s organizations as well, conservation organizations, um, pollinator partnerships that rely a lot on donations as well. So, um, Xerxes Society, um, pollinatorpartnership.org is another one. And, um, these organizations are advocating for the health of our pollinators and, and doing a lot [crickets] as far as educating folks about the importance of having healthy pollinator populations.
Jill Pritchard: To learn more about Missouri's pollinators and ways you can help them, visit missouriconservation.org.
A big thank you to my guests Erin Shank and Dr. Gerardo Camilo, and thanks to all of the St. Louis University students who made cameos on this episode. This is Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors. [Exit music.]
SLU Student: I actually do so much research in like bee conservation.
Jill Pritchard: Ah! Give me a high five!
SLU Student: Yeah!
Jill Pritchard: Oh, good. I'm so glad that you, yeah. So, you already know that a bee pollinator mission, you know what's up.
SLU Student: Yeah, yeah.
Jill Pritchard: One in three bites of food.
SLU Student: One in three bites? I didn't know that one. That one's the good one.
Jill Pritchard: That's a good statistic, isn't it?
SLU Student: Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: OK, well you take that to the bank.
SLU Student: I'm going to take that one. I'll express that like it's my own. [Laughing.]
Jill Pritchard: You're the best! OK, that's all I needed. You already know, so I don't need to educate you. You've got it.