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Bumblebee electric charge stimulates floral volatile emissions in Petunia integrifolia but not in Antirrhinum majus

Montgomery, Clara, Vuts, Jozsef, Woodcock, Christine M., Withall, David M., Birkett, Michael A., Pickett, John ORCID: and Robert, Daniel 2021. Bumblebee electric charge stimulates floral volatile emissions in Petunia integrifolia but not in Antirrhinum majus. The Science of Nature 108 (44) 10.1007/s00114-021-01740-2

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The timing of volatile organic compound (VOC) emission by flowering plants often coincides with pollinator foraging activity. Volatile emission is often considered to be paced by environmental variables, such as light intensity, and/or by circadian rhythmicity. The question arises as to what extent pollinators themselves provide information about their presence, in keeping with their long co-evolution with flowering plants. Bumblebees are electrically charged and provide electrical stimulation when visiting plants, as measured via the depolarisation of electric potential in the stem of flowers. Here we test the hypothesis that the electric charge of foraging bumblebees increases the floral volatile emissions of bee pollinated plants. We investigate the change in VOC emissions of two bee-pollinated plants (Petunia integrifolia and Antirrhinum majus) exposed to the electric charge typical of foraging bumblebees. P. integrifolia slightly increases its emissions of a behaviorally and physiologically active compound in response to visits by foraging bumblebees, presenting on average 121 pC of electric charge. We show that for P. integrifolia, strong electrical stimulation (600–700 pC) promotes increased volatile emissions, but this is not found when using weaker electrical charges more representative of flying pollinators (100 pC). Floral volatile emissions of A. majus were not affected by either strong (600–700 pC) or weak electric charges (100 pC). This study opens a new area of research whereby the electrical charge of flying insects may provide information to plants on the presence and phenology of their pollinators. As a form of electroreception, this sensory process would bear adaptive value, enabling plants to better ensure that their attractive chemical messages are released when a potential recipient is present.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Chemistry
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Publisher: Springer
ISSN: 0028-1042
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 15 July 2021
Date of Acceptance: 7 June 2021
Last Modified: 07 May 2023 04:22

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