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Flowers with caffeinated nectar receive more pollination

Abstract

Floral nectar functions to attract insects, so the inclusion of toxic compounds calls for explanation. Recent work shows that honeybees prefer nectars with low concentrations of caffeine and nicotine, and that associative learning by honeybees is enhanced by caffeine, prompting speculation that pollination service could be enhanced. We directly tested caffeine’s effect on pollination service by allowing bumblebee colonies to feed on arrays of artificial flowers that offer nectar while also dispensing and receiving dye particles as pollen analogues. With caffeine levels signaled by flower color (blue, green, or yellow) in a factorial design, flowers offering nectar with 10−5 M caffeine received significantly more pollen analogue than did those with 10−4 M caffeine or with no caffeine. Effects of caffeine were unaffected by which colors were associated with which caffeine levels: Color alone had no significant effect, and there was no interaction between color and caffeine level. In cases where greater pollination service translates to increased fitness, we would expect stabilizing selection to maintain nectar caffeine at intermediate levels.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Biobest for supplying bees, Nicholas Hoban for help with 3D printing, David F. Andrews and Bart Harvey for statistical advice, Alice Zhu for laboratory assistance, and Jessamyn Manson, Lars Chittka, and an anonymous reviewer for comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to James D. Thomson.

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Handling Editors: Lars Chittka and Heikki Hokkanen.

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Thomson, J.D., Draguleasa, M.A. & Tan, M.G. Flowers with caffeinated nectar receive more pollination. Arthropod-Plant Interactions 9, 1–7 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11829-014-9350-z

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Keywords

  • Floral nectar
  • Caffeine
  • Pollination
  • Bumblebee
  • Artificial flower
  • Secondary compound
  • Addiction