Clever bees can iden­tify dif­fer­ent flow­ers by pat­terns of scent

Iran Daily - - Science & Technology -

New re­search led by sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­sity of Bris­tol and Queen Mary Uni­ver­sity of London has re­vealed that bumblebees can tell flow­ers apart by pat­terns of scent.

Flow­ers have lots of dif­fer­ent pat­terns on their sur­faces that help to guide bees and other pol­li­na­tors to­wards the flower’s nec­tar, speed­ing up pol­li­na­tion, wrote.

Th­ese pat­terns in­clude vis­ual sig­nals like lines point­ing to the cen­ter of the flower, or color dif­fer­ences.

Flow­ers are also known to have dif­fer­ent pat­terns of scent across their sur­face, and so a vis­it­ing bee might find that the cen­ter of the flower smells dif­fer­ently to the edge of the petals.

This new re­search, pub­lished in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Royal So­ci­ety B, shows that bumblebees can tell flow­ers apart by how scent is ar­ranged on their sur­face.

Lead au­thor Dr. Dave Law­son, from the Uni­ver­sity of Bris­tol’s School of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sciences, said, “If you look at a flower with a mi­cro­scope, you can of­ten see that the cells that pro­duce the flower’s scent are ar­ranged in pat­terns.

“By creating ar­ti­fi­cial flow­ers that have iden­ti­cal scents ar­ranged in dif­fer­ent pat­terns, we are able to show that this pat­tern­ing might be a sig­nal to a bee.

“For a flower, it’s not just smelling nice that’s im­por­tant, but also where you put the scent in the first place.”

The study also showed that once bees had learnt how a pat­tern of scent was ar­ranged on a flower, they then pre­ferred to visit un­scented flow­ers that had a sim­i­lar ar­range­ment of vis­ual spots on their sur­face.

Law­son added, “This is the equiv­a­lent of a hu­man putting her hand in a bag to feel the shape of a novel ob­ject which she can’t see, and then pick­ing out a pic­ture of that ob­ject.

“Be­ing able to men­tally switch be­tween dif­fer­ent senses is some­thing we take for granted, but it’s ex­cit­ing that a small an­i­mal like a bee is also able to do some­thing this ab­stract.”

Pro­fes­sor Lars Chit­tka, from Queen Mary’s School of Bi­o­log­i­cal and Chem­i­cal Sciences, said, “We al­ready knew that bees were clever, but we were re­ally sur­prised by the fact that bees could learn in­vis­i­ble pat­terns on flow­ers — pat­terns that were just made of scent.

“The scent glands on our flow­ers were ei­ther ar­ranged in a cir­cle or a cross, and bees had to fig­ure out th­ese pat­terns by us­ing their feel­ers.

“But the most ex­cit­ing find­ing was that, if th­ese pat­terns are sud­denly made vis­i­ble by the ex­per­i­menter, bees can in­stantly rec­og­nize the image that for­merly was just an ephemeral pat­tern of volatiles in the air.”

Se­nior au­thor, Dr. Sean Rands, also from Bris­tol, added, “Flow­ers of­ten ad­ver­tise to their pol­li­na­tors in lots of dif­fer­ent ways at once, us­ing a mix­ture of color, shape, tex­ture, and en­tic­ing smells.

“If bees can learn pat­terns us­ing one sense (smell) and then trans­fer this to a dif­fer­ent sense (vi­sion), it makes sense that flow­ers ad­ver­tise in lots of ways at the same time, as learn­ing one sig­nal will mean that the bee is primed to re­spond pos­i­tively to dif­fer­ent sig­nals that they have never en­coun­tered.

“Ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies would be very ex­cited if the same thing hap­pened in hu­mans.”

Around 75 per­cent of all food grown glob­ally re­lies on flow­ers be­ing pol­li­nated by an­i­mals such as bees.

The work pub­lished is part of on­go­ing re­search at the Uni­ver­sity of Bris­tol that ex­plores the many dif­fer­ent ways in which plants com­mu­ni­cate with their pol­li­na­tors, us­ing dif­fer­ent in­no­va­tive tech­niques to ex­plore how bees per­ceive the flow­ers that they visit.

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