Honeybees can serve as bodyguards to plants

December 23rd, 2008 - 1:22 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 23 (ANI): A new research has suggested that honeybees can serve as bodyguards to plants, by buzzing off invasive caterpillars that would otherwise munch on the plants undisturbed.

The researchers, led by Jurgen Tautz of Biozentrum Universitat Wurzburg, Germany, earlier found that many caterpillars possess fine sensory hairs on the front portions of their bodies that enable them to detect air vibrations, such as the sound of an approaching predatory wasp or honeybee.

These sensory hairs are not fine-tuned. Therefore, caterpillars cannot distinguish between hunting wasps and harmless bees, Tautz said.

If an unidentified flying object approaches, generating air vibrations in the proper range, caterpillars stop moving or drop from the plant.

If caterpillars are constantly stressed by buzzing bees, as they likely are in fruiting trees heavily laden with blossoms, they will feed a lot less, said Tautz.

In the study, the researchers found that bell pepper plants without fruit suffered 60 to almost 70 percent less damage to their leaves when confined in a tent with bees and caterpillars in comparison to those in a tent with caterpillars alone.

The amount of leaf damage was less on fruit-bearing plants as the beet armyworm caterpillars moved into the maturing peppers.

Our findings indicate for the first time that visiting honeybees provide plants with a totally unexpected advantage, according to the researchers. They not only transport pollen from flower to flower, but in addition also reduce plant destruction by herbivores, they added.

The findings highlight the importance of indirect effects between apparently unrelated members of food webs in nature, Tautz said.

They might also have some practical application for sustainable agriculture.

According to Tautz, if crops are combined with attractive flowers in such a way that honeybees from nearby beehives constantly buzz around them, it may lead to significantly higher yields in areas with lots of leaf-eating pests.

Our finding may be the start of a totally new biological control method, he said. (ANI)

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