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Local Donations Support Horth's Bee Pollination Research

Lisa Horth

A new avenue of research pioneered by Lisa Horth, associate professor of biological sciences at Old Dominion University, certainly has the support of one segment of the regional population - bee lovers.

In the past few months, three groups, the Tidewater Bee Keepers Association, the Schonk Family Estate, and the Beekeepers Guild of Southeast Virginia, have made unsolicited grants to support her bee research. "People are abuzz with interest in bees," she says.

It all started late last year when news media publicized her research into the way flowers attract bees and other pollinating insects and birds.

Horth's research is especially relevant now because the honeybee population is steadily dropping - for reasons that scientists and beekeepers don't fully understand - and causing a drag on plant pollination.

Of course, pollination drives the production of fruits and seeds. Almonds and blueberries are prominent varieties of plants that depend upon honeybees to visit their flowers and transfer pollen grains from the male anther to the female stigma.

The research project Horth has launched examines how ultraviolet light affects this pollination. Flowers employ a variety of cues to attract pollinators. The bright color of flower petals is an obvious example. But honeybees and other creatures also are attracted by ultraviolet light that some flower petals reflect. This UV light, which humans cannot see, typically acts as a guide - or "airport runway lights," as Horth describes it - directing the pollinating creature to the flower's nectar and to the area where pollination can occur.

Horth's and her students' experiments show there is natural variation in the UV light reflections of flowers, and that the larger the UV reflecting area is, the more likely a bee will arrive to pollinate the flower. She and her students have manually augmented or decreased the UV reflecting portions of petals in order to demonstrate the advantage of the high-UV variation.

A potential result of this work would be the genetic engineering of high UV-cue petals in the flowers of food crops. This could assure the pollination of valuable crops even in the presence of decreasing bee populations.

This article was posted on: August 1, 2012

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