9
$\begingroup$

In my fantasy pre-industrial world pollen production and plant reproduction has been disabled by some sort of curse.

The curse has a limited geographical span, but the region affected is very large and without bordering countries that are easy to reach. There is navigation-based commerce with other far-away regions, but it's scarce and difficult.

What kind of food (vegetables, meat, animal products like honey...) would no longer be available or become very rare/expensive? In how much time?

Thank you very much for your help and sorry for my bad English.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This question is way too broad. The ramifications of such event would be so amazingly vast you could write an entire book series with this as premise and still not cover everything. It may work as a high concept but that's not something we can help you hammer out. $\endgroup$ – Hyfnae May 10 '17 at 12:04
  • 21
    $\begingroup$ Everybody and everything will die. $\endgroup$ – Fl.pf. May 10 '17 at 12:05
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Evolution takes thousands of generations. how would plants "develop" a different form of reproduction synchronous and instantaneous? If every male on the planet would suddendly stop producing sperm, do you think females would just suddendly develop a different method for reproduction? $\endgroup$ – Fl.pf. May 10 '17 at 12:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Fl.pf. - short and to the point, but wrong. Algae and fungi don't use pollen, and any number of plants will propagate vegetatively,. The sudden die-off of most plants will obviously kill most animal species, but some, such as krill and the predators they support, such as whales, will be largely unaffected. Actually, the entire marine ecology will hardly notice. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast May 10 '17 at 12:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast That thing about marine ecology was something I didn't think of. Thank you. :) $\endgroup$ – SFVT May 10 '17 at 12:32
19
$\begingroup$

The bad news: nearly all vegetation in the area is going to die out. When talking about what would not be available, it's actually easier to say what would still be available; we're talking about a complete ecological collapse scenario.

  1. Bananas. Edible bananas come from the "female" flowers, which do not need to be pollinated to produce fruit. But, this still means that you can't produce banana seeds, so if you want new banana trees you'll have to take a cutting from an existing tree or import seeds from somewhere else.

  2. Strawberry plants send out tendrils that can go into the ground and grow into new (genetically identical) plants. But this is largely useless for food; strawberry flowers need to be pollinated to produce strawberries. So you can have the plant, but not the fruit.

  3. Aspen trees. The largest living organism on Earth is an aspen grove in Colorado named Pando. Pando continually sprouts new trees from the roots of existing trees. An individual tree tends to live about a hundred years, but the trees are continually sprouting new trees out of the roots to replace them.

  4. Potatoes (and other root vegetables). Potato plants can sprout from potatoes. This will probably be the primary food source for your people.

Problems associated with all of these plants: they're all clones, so there's no genetic diversity. If some disease comes in that they're vulnerable to, they're all vulnerable to it (modern bananas currently have this problem). It's only a matter of time before some disease sweeps through, and it will be very difficult to repopulate after such a disaster (since no local seed production).

Other avenues:

  1. Lakes are rivers are probably going to be mostly fine. Algae (despite being associated with the word "bloom") does not use pollen. Small creatures eat the algae, larger creatures eat those creatures.

  2. Ranching is pretty much done for. Without grasses, it's going to be far cheaper to ship in beef and wool/mutton from somewhere else.

  3. Chickens, on the other hand, will probably be the farm animal of choice. Continual food production (eggs) plus the occasional meat, and their diet is very adaptive. They can eat the scraps from the plants that humans won't eat (probably not potatoes; the plants are in the nightshade family), bugs, meat scraps, mice, etc..

  4. Pigs might become a "status" animal. They take a lot of food before they're ready to eat, but the food they do eat can largely be scraps of what the humans are eating (or not even scraps).

  5. Ship in the seeds for most vegetables. Things like lettuce, cabbage, celery, carrots not only don't require going to seed, but are better if harvested before going to seed. This means you'll have to ship in 100% of your seeds (instead of letting some of your crop go to seed), but shipping in seed is a lot better than shipping in finished product (especially since finished product likes to rot).

  6. Ferns, moss, lichen, and fungus (mushrooms) are all plant/plant adjacent but do not flower or pollinate. Instead, they reproduce through spores. It might be nice to say, "And now we have a fern-based ecosystem," but remember that they all require substantial water and shade. Without a healthy forest system, they can't last long on their own, so take that into consideration.

Big changes are going to come to this area. With no pollen, it won't immediately become a desert, but it will head in that direction. Trees will stick around for a long time, but without new trees replenishing the old, as the old ones die out in the coming centuries more trees won't replace them. The same thing will happen on an accelerated timeline for smaller plants like bushes. Perennials won't last long. Annuals are gone next year. Plants with even shorter life cycles will be gone before people realize what's going on.

As the plants die, the animals that rely on them will die as well. No annuals and grasses? Goodbye rodent population. Goodbye predator population that feeds on the rodent population. Goodbye most insects. Goodbye predator population that feeds on insects.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Many grasses and vines spread via runners (above or below ground). These could survive for quite some time. $\endgroup$ – user3294068 May 10 '17 at 20:43
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Commercial bananas never reproduce via seeds (which are too immature). See here: "The banana tree forms rhizomes that form into a little tree known as a pup that can be removed and planted elsewhere." $\endgroup$ – Laurel May 10 '17 at 22:20
4
$\begingroup$

All plants on earth stop producing pollen.

Good news first: all allergic people will stop suffering each spring. Enjoy it as long as it last!

Bad news: no pollen means plants will no longer reproduce. This will have as a result that:

  • yearly plants will not be present next year nor they will produce seeds (including crops, wheat, corn, rice, beans, etc.)
  • trees and bushes will also stop producing fruits, so no apples, pears, almonds, cherries, etc.

The lack of crops will result in a famine for a big part of population whose daily alimentation is provided, directly or indirectly, by crops. Remember most of the livestocks are fed with soy, which, have a guess, is a bean...

On the long term, since no plant is massively reproducing, there will be a reduction of vegetal coverage worldwide. Only some of the plants which can propagate seedless will continue multiplicating, at the cost of reduced genetic diversity.

Reducing the vegetal coverage will have the non negligible side effect of lowering the oxygen production, but on the other side the number of breathing animals is already strongly reduced, so this is a minor issue.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Blue algae produces oxygen, general plants produce it at the day but comsumes it at night. But I can be very concerned about all the metane the dying animals will produce $\endgroup$ – jean May 10 '17 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ living animals produce more metane than dead ones tho $\endgroup$ – user27795 May 11 '17 at 22:38
4
$\begingroup$

Pastoral living. enter image description here from https://chamimage.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/maasai-herding-cattle_20070917_001.jpg

Without pollen you will not have seeds. You need seeds to make a new plant (except for ones that travel by cloning, like bananas or watercress).

Perennial plants come back year after year, no seed needed. Many of the good pasture plants are perennials. They have long taproots and come back year after year. Alfalfa is a legume example. If I am a pastoral nomad, my herds do not leave a swath of dead blighted earth behind them. They leave grasses of which the above ground part has been eaten. When the herds move on the grass grows back. This is why fire is not a big deal for prairie grasses either: the above ground stuff dies and the below ground stuff grows back. Many grasses also propagate vegetatively by runners. Crabgrass and bermudagrass are familiar example but others do too. That means grasses can take over adjacent bare spots without using any seeds. In the seedless world, humans would reseed croplands with clumps of grasses that would then spread.

Clonal plants can do very well for a long time. In a given prairie huge swaths will be comprised of individual ancient clones. From http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1297&context=bioscifacpub

Some clonal plant species have very large and very old clones, e.g., Gaylussacia brachycerium 1980 m diam, Aspen tremuloides 81 m diam and the grass Festuca rubra 220 m diam (Cook, 1985). Many of these large clones are estimated to be very old, e.g., for the species cited, 13,000+ y 10,000+ and 1000+, respectively (Cook, 1985).

Grasses already compete very well and a grass that could propagate by runners and establish a huge clone would have a huge advantage in a world without pollen: no annual weeds and once you cut them down or they died, no trees either.

Humans do fine on meat and milk. People around the world still live this way. In a grassland world without seeds you would have herds of cows, sheep and goats. They would eat the grass and you would eat the animals and their milk. And maybe some blood for delicious blood sausage.

I was wondering about vitamin C. I am not sure what the pastoral nomads did to get that. I am pleased to see that scurvygrass is a perennial also. Watercress is loaded with vitamin C. So a little salad now and then.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ One note is that the population density of such regions is low. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 10 '17 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ this only works for incredibly small groups of people i.e one big family or maybe two or tree or an incredibly small village, but it won't work with anything as big a city or a country, there would not be enough water and land to feed all the cows/goats/sheep/pigs and eventually people will starve to death. $\endgroup$ – user27795 May 11 '17 at 22:41
2
$\begingroup$

Everyone will now have to eat bananas and any other crop that we produce through cloning.

I know that bananas are grown that way. That's why whenever there is a fungus or other disease that affects bananas, they lose the entire crop. Every single banana plant has the same genetics. When that happens, researchers then look for another banana strain that is resistant to that disease and that tastes good. Then they clone the heck out of it and give it to all of the banana plantations.

There may be other crops produced the same way and many others could be. It would be a lot of work and it is likely that they will only be able to feed a small portion of the current population.

Another issue is if we can create a nutritionally healthy diet with just those plants.

OTOH, the oceans will be fine. Plankton reproduces through other means. So, most of those food chains will be untouched.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Tl;dr: Almost all of it. How long depends on what kind of ecosystem.

Think about your basic trophic trees from high school biology. If the plants don't produce pollen, they don't reproduce, eventually they all die. If the herbivores have no plants to eat they all die as well. Then the carnivores die, and then the land becomes a barren wasteland, with some algae-based food-webs scratching a living where they can.

Trophic tree showing food web

The time frame for this will be relatively fast (on a geological time frame). Within a year or two all of the annual plants will be gone, their seeds having sprouted, grown and died. Tree and perennial species will begin dying off more slowly, depending on their lifespans. However, this process will begin to snowball, because the lack of plant life will contribute to climate change and without reproduction, any loss of life would be devastating.

Furthermore herbivores will begin eating every green thing in sight, after the grass begins to die off (this will take some time, since grass can grow to some extent without pollen), leading to further decline in the survivability of plants.

Some animal life could survive by eating non-pollen-based photosynthetic organisms, like algae. Additionally, plants that could reproduce vegetatively would last longer (like potatoes and strawberries). The issue with vegetative reproduction is that it doesn't increase genetic diversity, this leads to a population unable to respond to changes in the environment, and with all the plants dying there will be a lot of changes in the environment. They will last longer, but not survive indefinitely, at least not without human aid.

That being said, decomposers will have a field day for a year or two, and you can expect to see a lot more mushrooms and the like. So expect the prices of fungal foods to plummet, at least until life stabilizes to a barely-scratching-out-a-living stage.

To sum up, most food chains will collapse, but the time frame will vary greatly depending on the ecosystem of the area. Forests will have trees for many years, and grasslands will have some sustainability, depending on the durability of the grass. Somewhere like a wetland would die very quickly. Animal life would follow the death of plants relatively quickly. An ocean biome would be almost unaffected, since no oceanic photosynthesis-capable creatures use pollen to reproduce.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Not all plants reproduce by pollination. "Lawn grass", for example, reproduces via runners and rhizomes. Also, ferns, lichens and moss don't pollinate. Thus, cows and sheep could survive (if there's enough land and the winters aren't too harsh), and so some higher predators would survive. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 10 '17 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn see edits have addressed some of those caveats. Moss in particular requires a lot of water, it couldn't replace grass or soy on large swaths of dry land. Grass would also have to adapt to the changes in climate, it might survive, but I would guess not, at least not as successfully. $\endgroup$ – DonyorM May 10 '17 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ it took me a while to compose that comment. We must have both been working on them at the same time. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 10 '17 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn That's cool. It's a problem with the answer & edit strategy. $\endgroup$ – DonyorM May 10 '17 at 17:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I removed my down-vote because of your edits. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 10 '17 at 17:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.