Nectar is not a simple soft drink

Feb 27, 2007

The sugar-containing nectar secreted by plants and consumed by pollinators shares a number of similarities to fitness drinks, including ingredients such as amino acids and vitamins. In addition to these components, nectar can also contain secondary metabolites such as the alkaloid nicotine and other toxic compounds.

Scientists Danny Kessler and Ian Baldwin from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, recently addressed the question, why would plants risk poisoning the insects and birds that provide pollination services? Their findings have been published in The Plant Journal.

Kessler and Baldwin examined the nectar of a wild tobacco species, Nicotiana attenuata, and discovered that it is flavoured with 35 secondary compounds. The researchers then tested 16 of these in cafeteria-style bioassays with three groups of native visitors - hawkmoths, hummingbirds (both pollinators) and ants ('nectar thieves'). Some compounds were attractive and others were not. Certain nectar blends seem to increase a flower's chances of being visited by useful pollinators while discouraging nectar thieves.

Nicotine, the most abundant repellent found, affected both pollinators and nectar thieves in the same way. The visitors removed less nectar per visit when nicotine was present. To determine if nicotine was repellent in the real world, the researchers genetically transformed N. attenuata plants to create nicotine-free plants, which were planted into a natural population and nectar removal rates were measured. Native floral visitors removed much more nectar from the plants that had no nicotine than from the normal nicotine-containing plants.

Why would a plant produce nectar that repels pollinators? Data from the bioassays provided a hypothesis: when nectar contains nicotine, the amount of nectar consumed per visit decreases but the number of visitations increases. Increasing the number of visitors might increase the genetic diversity of the offspring produced. The researchers are planning to test this hypothesis in the upcoming field season.

Dissecting the function of this secret formula of nectar, thought to be nature's soft drink, has instead shown it to be quite 'hard'.

Source: Blackwell Publishing

Explore further: NYSCF Research Institute announces largest-ever stem cell repository

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Roads negatively affect frogs and toads, study finds

46 minutes ago

The development of roads has a significant negative and pervasive effect on frog and toad populations, according to a new study conducted by a team of researchers that included undergraduate students and ...

Is sending shoppers ads by Bluetooth just a bit creepy?

6 minutes ago

Using Bluetooth wireless networking to send information to nearby smartphones, beacon technology could transform how retailers engage with their customers. But customers will notice how their information is ...

Who owns the moon?

55 minutes ago

Whether you're into mining, energy or tourism, there are lots of reasons to explore space. Some "pioneers" even believe humanity's survival depends on colonising celestial bodies such as the moon and Mars, ...

Recommended for you

Precise and programmable biological circuits

34 minutes ago

A team led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson has developed several new components for biological circuits. These components are key building blocks for constructing precisely functioning and programmable bio-computers.

User comments : 0