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Bee Buzz

March 21, 2013

Eva Gusnowski

Bees: they dance, they can be zombified, and now they’ve been caffeinated.

A study published in March 2013 looked at the development of caffeinated nectar as a means of seducing bees to come and make with the pollination. Two families of caffeine-producing plants, Citrus and Coffea, include caffeine in their nectar. As many things in nature occur because they offer a selective advantage, what would be the advantage of including caffeine in nectar, especially considering that bees have a “bitterness threshold” for what nectar they will use. All of the plants tested had a concentration of caffeine that was below the anticipated bitterness threshold, so then what is the advantage of the caffeine?

 



This group decided to train bees to associate floral scents with a sugary sucrose reward, much like flowers in the real world do (nature is the world’s experiment, after all). When the researchers added caffeine to the sucrose to the same level found in the Citrus and Coffea plants, three times as many bees remembered the floral scent 24 hours later compared to the control “just sucrose” group. Astonishingly, this effect was maintained 72 hours later, when twice as many caffeinated- vs. non-caffeinated-bees remembered the floral scent. This means that when used by the flowers in nature, they can improve the learning of the bees so that they remember the scent of the Citrus and Coffea flowers, which will in turn improve pollination.

After reading this study, I now realize that I have been conditioned by Starbucks this whole time. Well done, chaps. You’ve got us.  Now where's my delicious coffee treat?

 

BE HEARD

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