Werner Myburgh, CEO of Peace Parks Foundation, explains the fascinating relationship between a local species of wasp and fig tree in southern Africa. The specific pollination he describes only occurs between these particular species which makes this relationship even more amazing.
A fig wasp is shorter than an eyelash but will fly as far as 9 km to find a tree with flowering figs using a keen sense of smell. Once it finds the right fig tree, it climbs inside to lays its eggs. As the larvae grow they emit carbon dioxide which nourishes the fig, and in turn the fig protects the growing wasps. The fig tree benefits from this situation because, like most plants, their fruit ripens only after its flowers are pollinated with a grain of pollen from another tree. It is the fig wasp that brings the pollen. This special, co-dependant relationship is what biologists call an “obligate mutualism, ” meaning that everyone benefits.
This symbiotic relationship is a fascinating example of the importance of biodiversity in southern Africa and its impact on the wider ecosystem. Figs are an important species in tropical regions worldwide, their fruit supporting the diets of hundreds of mammals, including humans, and birds. The extinction of fig wasps would therefore be catastrophic in tropical ecosystems and in turn, damage the local communities who rely on figs as crops or on an even larger scale, the trees to combat carbon emissions.
So, although the wasp sometimes gets a bad rep, here we can see its importance and indeed the importance of every species, no matter how small, and the vital role it plays in sustaining the ecosystems that Peace Parks and partners strive to protect.
Peace Parks Foundation strives to create partnerships like this one between the wasp and the fig, mutually beneficial ones where all live and work alongside in harmony.