Humans are not the only ones who cannot function without their morning brew.
In a new study, researchers found that caffeinated bees are better equipped to find target crops – whether the crops contained caffeine or not.
In the study, published Wednesday in Current Biology, researchers fed bees decaffeinated food along with a floral scent blend in their nest. They used robotic experimental flowers to “remove the effect of caffeine, which improves memory for learned food-associated signals versus caffeine as a reward.”
Other studies have shown that bees visit more caffeinated food sources, but it can be difficult to determine whether it is because caffeine itself acts as a reward, or because it helps them remember that the special properties of the place / flower indicates a good food source, ”the study’s lead author Sarah Arnold, associate professor of insect behavior and ecology at the University of Greenwich, told VICE.
According to the study, some bees were trained to associate a target air, resembling strawberry flowers, with a sugary reward. One group of bees received a caffeinated reward, while another group received a non-decaffeinated version. A third group received the reward but did not learn to associate it with the strawberry.
Afterwards, the bees entered an aviation arena with floors covered with a green polypropylene sheet. The arena included both the strawberry-scented artificial flowers and flowers with a different “distracting scent.” None of the artificial flowers contained any caffeine. The electronic artificial flowers recorded the bee visits and are automatically refilled after 12 seconds.
Bees due to caffeine made several initial visits to the robotic flowers, which emit the target air compared to the other bee groups. Seventy percent of caffeinated bees went first to the strawberry-scented flowers, compared to 60% of the bees that associated the strawberry-scented with the non-caffeinated reward. Bees that did not learn the association first visited the strawberry-scented flowers at a rate of 44.8%.
The caffeinated bees also had faster “flower handling” and flower visit rates, revealing that the food localization behavior of bumble bees can be improved with caffeine.
Surprisingly, the connection between the strawberry air and the sugar reward disappeared as the study progressed. The caffeinated bees eventually stopped showing affinity with the strawberry scent, perhaps since they found that both flowers gave the same reward.
The study has broader implications for the effect of caffeine on overall crop pollination. If the bees are caffeinated in their nests and learn to pollinate certain crops, they can increase agricultural production and reduce competition with wild bees.
“Giving caffeine and crop-specific odors to commercial bumble bees in captivity could lead to inexperienced bumblebees to visit a target crop primarily to other flowers in the environment, which could reduce competition with wild bees and provide improved value for money from the colony,” the researchers concluded. .
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