Thursday, 21 July 2016

Flight of the bumble bee reveals plants' flair for flower arranging

July 17, 2016

Plants can maximise their chances of reproduction by taking advantage of how insects move between flowers when they track down nectar, a study suggests.

In one of the first studies of its type, scientists found that the way in which plants arrange their flowers affects the flight patterns taken by foraging bees.

Researchers expect that this likely has an impact for how plants reproduce, and they suggest that plants have evolved over time to take advantage of it.

Scientists already knew that variation in shape, size and colour of individual flowers can influence how their pollen is spread by visiting insects or birds. They were interested to learn how the arrangement of flowers - such as circled around the stem or in a line - affects pollination.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Calgary, Canada, studied the flights of bmble bees as they collected nectar from wild tall larkspur flowers in Alberta, Canada.

They found that when the plants' flowers were present on only one side of the stem, bees would more often fly vertically between flowers. By comparison, when a plant had flowers all around its stem, bees would be less likely to fly upwards.

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