Bees and flowers drawn together electrically, Bristol scientists discover
Bees and flowers communicate using electrical fields, researchers from the University of Bristol have discovered.
The research, published today in the Science Express journal, shows for the first time that pollinators such as bumblebees are able to find and distinguish electric signals given out by flowers.
It is well known that flowers produce bright colours, patterns and enticing fragrances to attract their pollinators.
But researchers at Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, led by Professor Daniel Robert, and supported by the Leverhulme Trust, found that flowers also have their equivalent of a neon sign – patterns of electrical signals that can communicate information to the insect pollinator.
Plants are usually charged negatively and emit weak electric fields. On their side, bees acquire a positive charge as they fly through the air. No spark is produced as a charged bee approaches a charged flower, but a small electric force builds up that can potentially convey information.
By placing electrodes in the stems of petunias, the researchers showed that when a bee lands, the flower’s potential changes and remains so for several minutes.
To their surprise, the researchers discovered that bumblebees can detect and distinguish between different floral electric fields.
Professor Robert said: “The co-evolution between flowers and bees has a long and beneficial history, so perhaps it's not entirely surprising that we are still discovering today how remarkably sophisticated their communication is.”