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Bumblebees are not deterred by ecologically relevant concentrations of nectar toxins

Bumblebees are not deterred by ecologically relevant concentrations of nectar toxins

Tiedeken, Erin Jo, Stout, Jane C., Stevenson, Philip C. ORCID: 0000-0002-0736-3619 and Wright, Geraldine A. (2014) Bumblebees are not deterred by ecologically relevant concentrations of nectar toxins. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 217 (9). pp. 1620-1625. ISSN 0022-0949 (Print), 1477-9145 (Online) (doi:

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Bees visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen that contain nutrients and simultaneously facilitate plant sexual reproduction. Paradoxically, nectar produced to attract pollinators often contains deterrent or toxic plant compounds associated with herbivore defence. The functional significance of these nectar toxins is not fully understood, but they may have a negative impact on pollinator behaviour and health, and, ultimately, plant pollination. This study investigates whether a generalist bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, can detect naturally occurring concentrations of nectar toxins. Using paired-choice experiments, we identified deterrence thresholds for five compounds found in the nectar of bee-pollinated plants: quinine, caffeine, nicotine, amygdalin and grayanotoxin. The deterrence threshold was determined when bumblebees significantly preferred a sucrose solution over a sucrose solution containing the compound. Bumblebees had the lowest deterrence threshold for the alkaloid quinine (0.01 mmol l−1); all other compounds had higher deterrence thresholds, above the natural concentration range in floral nectar. Our data, combined with previous work using honeybees, suggest that generalist bee species have poor acuity for the detection of nectar toxins. The fact that bees do not avoid nectar-relevant concentrations of these compounds likely indicates that it is difficult for them to learn to associate floral traits with the presence of toxins, thus maintaining this trait in plant popula.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: pollinator, Bombus terrestris, nectar toxin, grayanotoxin, behaviour, deterrence threshold
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history
Q Science > QK Botany
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Agriculture, Health & Environment Department
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2018 14:20
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: GREAT e
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
Selected for REF2021: None

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