According to a new study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts and Dartmouth College in New York, flowers produce nectar which contains chemicals that can help bumblebees fight infections.
The scientists published the new findings in the journal Royal Society Proceedings.
In order to come up with this scientific conclusion, the researchers collected and studied eight nectar compounds gathered from North American bumblebees.
The bees were artificially infected with Crithidia bombi, an internal parasite which is spread through bee feces. This parasite is responsible for reducing the number of bees during winter and affects the bees’ reproductive process.
The researchers found that four of the nectar compounds were effective against the parasite. One of the compounds is an alkaloid known as anabasine which is produced by a species of wild tobacco – Nicotiana glauca.
According to the scientists, the anabasine compound was the most effective against the parasite, reducing it by 81%.
Another compound, Thymol, which is produced by the common lime tree, reduced the parasite by 67%.
Nicotin, which is produced by the tobacco plant, was also effective against the parasite, destroying it by 62%, while catalpol, which is found in a plant called white turtlehead, originally from North America, reduced the parasites by 61%.
The plants produce these substances as a defense mechanism against their main enemy, herbivores. The scientists call these defensive substances secondary metabolites.
In flower nectar, these compounds have the role of attracting, while the bees pollinate the flower in return.
The researchers believe that the new findings may be important for gardeners and farmers who need pollination in order to multiply their plants.
Leif Richardson, one of the scientists involved in the study, said that more studies are needed in order to find whether these compounds, like plant nicotine, could also help honeybees, which have been affected by a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.
Richardson explained that it’s very important to identify the wild flowers that combine nectar and pollen with anti-parasitic compounds.
He concludes that if farmers would grow these plants around their farms, it would improve the survival rate of bees.
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