Main content area

A matter of taste: the adverse effect of pollen compounds on the pre-ingestive gustatory experience of sugar solutions for honeybees

Nicholls, E., Krishna, S., Wright, O., Stabler, D., Krefft, A., Somanathan, H., Hempel de Ibarra, N.
Journal of comparative physiology 2019 v.205 no.3 pp. 333-346
adverse effects, antennae, honey bees, insect behavior, learning, nectar, odors, phenylalanine, pollen, proboscis, proline, quinine, sucrose, taste
In addition to sugars, nectar contains multiple nutrient compounds in varying concentrations, yet little is known of their effect on the reward properties of nectar and the resulting implications for insect behaviour. We examined the pre-ingestive responses of honeybees to sucrose solutions containing a mix of pollen compounds, the amino acids proline or phenylalanine, or known distasteful substances, quinine and salt. We predicted that in taste and learning assays, bees would respond positively to the presence of nutrient compounds in a sucrose solution. However, bees’ proboscis extension responses decreased when their antennae were stimulated with pollen- or amino acid-supplemented sucrose solutions. Compared to pure sucrose, bees exhibited worse acquisition when conditioned to an odour with pollen-supplemented sucrose as the unconditioned stimulus. Such learning impairment was also observed with quinine-containing sucrose solutions. Our results suggest that bees can use their antennae to detect pollen compounds in floral nectars. Depending on the type and concentrations of compounds present, this may result in nectar being perceived as distasteful by bees, making it less effective in reinforcing the learning of floral cues. Such reward devaluation might be adaptive in cases where plants benefit from regulating the frequency of bee visitation.