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

July 17, 2016, University of Edinburgh
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. Credit: Lawrence Harder

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, found that the way in which 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 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.

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. Credit: Lawrence Harder

The findings are helping to aid scientists' understanding of how plants can control how their pollen is spread by foraging insects.

They could also inform the development of plant crops with high yields, by enabling scientists to understand how plants can transfer pollen most efficiently.

The results may also help explain why about half of all flowering plants produce flowers that can have female or male characteristics at different times. These arrangements may maximise the plants' chances of reproduction.

The study, published in the Annals of Botany, was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Dr Crispin Jordan, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "Plants and their flowers exist in all shapes and sizes, and our finding that the arrangement of can influence how forage might go some way to explaining how plants, which rely on others species to spread , can influence their own reproduction."

In one of the first studies of its type, scientists studying wild tall larkspur flowers found that the way in which plants arrange their flowers affects the flight patterns taken by foraging bees. Credit: Crispin Jordan

Explore further: Bee flower choices altered by exposure to pesticides

Related Stories

Bee flower choices altered by exposure to pesticides

March 14, 2016

Scientists have shown that low levels of pesticides can impact the foraging behaviour of bumblebees on wild flowers, changing their floral preferences and hindering their ability to learn the skills needed to extract nectar ...

Threat posed by 'pollen thief' bees uncovered

October 9, 2015

A new University of Stirling study has uncovered the secrets of 'pollen thief' bees - which take pollen from flowers but fail to act as effective pollinators - and the threat they pose to certain plant species.

London bee tracking project begins

June 20, 2016

Hundreds of bees with individual coloured number tags will be released from the rooftops of Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) on Tuesday 21 June and over the next month for a project that hopes to uncover the secret ...

Recommended for you

A decade on, smartphone-like software finally heads to space

March 20, 2019

Once a traditional satellite is launched into space, its physical hardware and computer software stay mostly immutable for the rest of its existence as it orbits the Earth, even as the technology it serves on the ground continues ...

Tiny 'water bears' can teach us about survival

March 20, 2019

Earth's ultimate survivors can weather extreme heat, cold, radiation and even the vacuum of space. Now the U.S. military hopes these tiny critters called tardigrades can teach us about true toughness.

Researchers find hidden proteins in bacteria

March 20, 2019

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed a way to identify the beginning of every gene—known as a translation start site or a start codon—in bacterial cell DNA with a single experiment and, through ...

Turn off a light, save a life, says new study

March 20, 2019

We all know that turning off lights and buying energy-efficient appliances affects our financial bottom line. Now, according to a new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, we know that saving energy also saves ...

0 comments

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.