Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bees' Buzz May Be Protecting Your Plants

Researchers in Germany say that honeybees seem to provide a protective buzz to plants in gardens. Writing in the journal Current Biology, a team of biologists led by Jurgen Tautz at the University of Wurzburg found that foraging honeybees flying around in test garden plots deterred caterpillars from eating away at the leaves of pepper plants.

In the plots with bees, caterpillars ate only about one third of what they consumed in the areas where bees were eliminated.

Susan Milius in Science News reported it this way:

“So far Tautz has tested the idea only in a strictly controlled setup. He and his colleagues put up a pair of tents housing an array of plants. In the various runs of the test, researchers used bell pepper plants, once with and once without fruits, as well as soybean plants. A bee hive opened into the one tent, and some 50 bees at a time buzzed over the plants on the way to collecting sugar water from feeders in the corners.”

Army worms (Spodoptera exigua) were then added to the scene. They can be a real nuisance in gardens, eating some 50 kinds of plants, but they have been known to stop moving and even fall from leaves if wasps fly by. This may be because wasps are known to eat caterpillars. Tautz, the researcher leading the tests, says that the caterpillars have small hairs that can sense wasp wing movements.

Bees and wasps differ in a few major ways, not the least of which is diet. Bees do not eat caterpillars. But to the pest worms, the sounds may be the same and cause the same reaction.

The team would like to do more research on this interesting cause and effect relationship, but say that it may simply bee a nice side benefit to pollination.
Reading over the press releases and stories written about this research, I couldn't help but wonder if native bees (like the one in my photo, above) provide the same protection. Also, I think this proves that there are huge advantages to planting nectar rich flowers near your fruits and vegetables that go beyond pollination.
And hey, now I have one more reason to tell people that they shouldn't hate the bees.

No comments: