On the Edge

In ecology, ‘edge effect’ is an increased level of biodiversity that is observed where ecosystems meet. The slight overlap means that species from both biomes can be found there, as well as species that are specifically suited to that ecotone, or area of overlap. Think of coral reefs, for instance.

Coral These diverse ecotones are obviously not the only important areas – they wouldn’t exist were it not for the larger, less diverse ecosystems on either side, and some species can only survive in those. But they are very interesting, vibrant, lively areas to be in. In the same vein, cross-pollination of plants results in greater genetic diversity. Though self-pollination is sometimes possible, cross-pollination results in more robust crops.

This is an interesting concept that we should consider applying to ourselves: If you are a curious, restless, change-loving, knowledge-hungry sort of person who enjoys diverse branches of knowledge, who prefers thinking about concepts even more than losing yourself in the details of implementation, consider ways you could cross-pollinate those fields of enquiry which most interest you. There are countless, rich ecotones of knowledge filled with fascinating ideas just waiting to be explored, and even created.

As a sidenote: honeybees are excellent and necessary pollinators (learn about them, if only for that reason!) — a slight electrical charge, produced by the friction of their fluttering wings, means that when they come into contact with pollen, it sticks to them, and so gets transferred to other flowers as well.

Pollen on Honeybee But honeybees aren’t very good pollinators of Alfalfa, which we call Lucerne in South Africa, an important crop to the dairy and beef industries. The reason is that the plant has a spring mechanism triggered by insects, which whacks the bee over the head, to transfer pollen to it. The clever honeybee won’t tolerate this, so quickly learns how to drink the plant’s nectar without a knock on the noggin, which means that beekeepers that provide honeybee pollination services to farmers with Lucerne crops, need to make sure that there are loads of young honeybees around which haven’t yet learnt to dodge the blow! Alfalfa leafcutter bees, being more docile, don’t seem to mind this, so they are often used to pollinate Alfalfa crops. This is another example we should learn from. Understanding the inherent qualities and behaviours of pollinators, leads to better pollination — of plants, industries and ideas.

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