Honeybees as plant 'bodyguards'

Dec 22, 2008
Bee

Honeybees are important to plants for reasons that go beyond pollination, according to a new study published in the December 23rd issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. The insects' buzz also defends plants against the caterpillars that would otherwise munch on them undisturbed.

The researchers, led by Jürgen Tautz of Biozentrum Universität Würzburg, Germany, earlier found that many caterpillars possess fine sensory hairs on the front portions of their bodies that enable them to detect air vibrations, such as the sound of an approaching predatory wasp or honeybee.

"These sensory hairs are not fine-tuned," Tautz said. "Therefore, caterpillars cannot distinguish between hunting wasps and harmless bees." If an "unidentified flying object" approaches, generating air vibrations in the proper range, caterpillars stop moving or drop from the plant. If caterpillars are constantly stressed by buzzing bees, as they likely are in fruiting trees heavily laden with blossoms, they will feed a lot less, he said.

In the study, the researchers found that bell pepper plants without fruit suffered 60 to almost 70 percent less damage to their leaves when confined in a tent with bees and caterpillars in comparison to those in a tent with caterpillars alone. The amount of leaf damage was less on fruit-bearing plants as the beet armyworm caterpillars moved into the maturing peppers, they report.

"Our findings indicate for the first time that visiting honeybees provide plants with a totally unexpected advantage," the researchers said. "They not only transport pollen from flower to flower, but in addition also reduce plant destruction by herbivores."

The findings highlight the importance of indirect effects between apparently unrelated members of food webs in nature, Tautz said. They might also have some practical application for sustainable agriculture.

If crops are combined with attractive flowers in such a way that honeybees from nearby beehives constantly buzz around them, it may lead to significantly higher yields in areas with lots of leaf-eating pests—a notion Tautz's team intends to test. "Our finding may be the start of a totally new biological control method," he said.

Source: Cell Press

Explore further: Insect mating behavior has lessons for drones

Related Stories

Recharging in private

38 minutes ago

An electronic payment system developed in Singapore will protect the privacy of customers recharging their electric vehicles.

Recommended for you

Insect mating behavior has lessons for drones

13 hours ago

Male moths locate females by navigating along the latter's pheromone (odor) plume, often flying hundreds of meters to do so. Two strategies are involved to accomplish this: males must find the outer envelope ...

Bacterial tenants in fungal quarters

23 hours ago

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich researchers have sequenced the genome of a bacterial symbiont hosted by a mycorrhizal fungus. Analysis of the symbiont's genetic endowment reveals previously unknown ...

Natural enzyme examined as antibiotics alternative

May 29, 2015

In 1921, Alexander Fleming discovered the antimicrobial powers of the enzyme lysozyme after observing diminished bacterial growth in a Petri dish where a drop from his runny nose had fallen. The famed Scottish ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.