The caffeine in morning coffee that prepares many humans for the day appears to inject bumblebees with a similar dose of purpose, helping them pollinate more effectively, according to one study.
The impact of the climate crisis, habitat loss, and pesticide use has affected wild pollinator populations, including bees, moths, wasps, butterflies, beetles, and birds. As a result, some fruit growers have turned to relying on “controlled pollinators,” such as commercial colonies of bumblebees, to pollinate their crops.
But these useful helpers are not as efficient as farmers would like, some do not leave the nest, while others are easily distracted by other flora in the surroundings, which means that the crop is not completely taken care of.
The study was designed to evaluate whether bees could be prepared to attack specific odors.
To do this, the researchers invented a special blend of caffeine, sugar, and the specific “target flower” scent (the scent of strawberry blossoms) that they wanted their bees to find and floated it through the nest.
The bees were then released into the lab where robotic flowers were sprayed with either the target scent or the soft citrus notes of linalol, a compound not present in strawberry flowers. “We were interested in seeing if the bees would go for all the flowers equally, since they were all rewarded equally, or if they would go for the flowers that smell like the ones that were trained in the nest,” said the study author, Dr. Sarah Arnold of the Institute of Natural Resources at the University of Greenwich.
Bees that had been trained using the caffeine blend were much more interested in the strawberry-scented target flowers than in the distracting flowers, the authors said, adding that the experiment did not appear to be toxic because it had no impact on the hope of life of bees. .
The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Life Sciences Research Council, Biobest (a supplier of bumblebees for fruit farms) and Berry Gardens (a production and marketing group of fruit growers).
Previous research designed to alter the behavior of bees involved putting caffeine directly on the flowers to attract them, which is not practical on a large scale.
However, this experiment could be a good start to make it easier for farmers to ensure their crop is pollinated, Arnold said. “In a field situation … the bees would have to deal with different weather conditions, they would have to fly more and other challenges,” he warned, noting that a successful field-scale test would be needed before this approach could be used in The real world.
If the results are replicated, everyone will benefit, he added. “Growers get more value for money from their commercial bumblebees, wild bees potentially get a little less competition for their natural food resources. And hopefully, as consumers, we also get more fruit. “