Sunday, March 19, 2017

How bees influence the plants they pollinate

Florian Schiestl, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Zurich, and his colleagues grew a field mustard plants, and exposed them to two types of pollinators: efficient bumblebees and inefficient hoverflies. 

And they learned something fascinating about this interaction, Christopher Intagliata reports.
After just 11 generations, they found that the plants visited by bumblebees were taller, twice as fragrant, and reflected more UV light—a visual signal for bees. And those factors made the progeny even more attractive to bumblebees at the end of the experiment: a sign the plants had adapted to their pollinators' preferences. 
But the plants that got a fly-by from the flies? They grew shorter. Less fragrant. And actually adapted to do more self-pollination. Because hoverflies are lousy pollinators. 
In fewer than a dozen generations bumblebee-pollinated plants were coaxed to develop traits that made them even more pleasing to the bees. This means, according to Schiestl: With honeybees in peril, what happens if we lose them? “This will trigger an evolutionary response in the plants. For example, if flies take over as more important pollinators, as they used to be in the past, then very likely we'll have some evolutionary change going on."

Nature looks after its own.

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