Bees can be trained to “sniff” the sunflower in an attempt to stimulate crop production.
Scientists at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, have discovered that bees could be conditioned in the same way as dogs to detect odors. The team now hopes that this will help streamline the pollination process.
In the study, a colony of bees received food that was layered with a synthetic odor that mimicked the smell of sunflower. It was found that these bees visited the sunflower more frequently, leading to a noticeable increase in the production of those crops.
findings it could be good news for other crops that also rely on pollination, and the method could work for plants such as apples or almonds, scientists say.
“We show that it is possible to condition bees by a rewarding odor inside the colony, and this experience changes the odor-guided behaviors of bees later,” says Walter Farina, who led the research.
“The most surprising and relevant result is that feeding preferences for the target crop are so prolonged and intensive that they favor significant increases in crop yields.”
Bees never forget
This is not the first time that Farina and his team have made a significant discovery about bees. Earlier, the researchers found that bees are able to establish stable long-term memories of the food smells they encountered in the nest.
These memories then influenced the bees’ choices about the crops they will visit in the future.
Farina was able to use this understanding of hive memories to develop new research on feeding preferences. Scientists have managed to manipulate the memories of bees through the artificial smell of sunflowers, causing them to actively choose to visit more sunflowers.
The bees in the study brought even more sunflower pollen to the hive.
“Through this procedure, it is possible to influence the search for bees and significantly increase yields,” says Farina. “In other words, pollination services could be improved in pollinator-dependent crops by using simple imitation odors as part of a precision pollination strategy.”
It was found that sunflower used in research increased its seed production from 29 to 57%.
Farina and his team are still investigating how to apply these findings to other crops that depend on pollination.
Using odor mimicry, researchers hope to improve the overall efficiency of pollination, as climate change continues to threaten pollinating insects, including bees.