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Bumblebees trick plants into flowering early

Date: 24 May 2020 Tags: Biodiversity

Issue

Scientists have discovered a new behaviour among bumblebees that tricks plants into flowering early.

 

Background

With their fuzzy appearance and distinctive drone, bumblebees are hard to miss in gardens all over the world.

Their dense, hairy bodies make them excellent pollinators for crops like tomatoes and blueberries.

 

Details

  • Researchers found that when deprived of pollen, bumblebees will nibble on the leaves of flowerless plants.

  • The damage done seems to fool the plant into flowering, sometimes up to 30 days earlier than normal.

  • They are among the first bees to emerge each year and work a long season. Some colonies remain active through the winter. But despite their key role, bumblebees, like many other pollinators have seen their numbers tumble in recent decades.

  • One recent study pointed to climate change, reporting that an increasing number of hot days in Europe and North America were boosting local extinction rates.

  • But researchers have now made a discovery about bumblebees that could have relevance to their long-term survival.

  • Scientists in Switzerland found that when the bees were deprived of pollen, they started to nibble on the leaves of plants that hadn't yet flowered.

  • The bees used their proboscises and mandibles (mouthparts) to cut distinctively-shaped holes in the leaves.

  • When the researchers tried to emulate the damage done to the plants by the bumblebees they weren't able to achieve the same results.

  • The bee-damaged plants flowered 30 days earlier than undamaged plants and 25 days earlier than ones damaged by the scientists.

  • It is vital for plants that depend on pollination to have their flowers on display when the pollinators are buzzing around.

  • It could be that some plants have evolved a strategy to push out their flowers when they recognise the bee doing damage to their leaves.

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