Bees can be trained to “sniff” the sunflower in an attempt to stimulate crop production.
Scientists at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, have found that bees can be conditioned in the same way as dogs to detect odors. The team now hopes that this will help streamline the pollination process.
In the study, a colony of bees received food that was layered with a synthetic odor that mimics the smell of sunflower. It was found that these bees visited the sunflower more frequently, leading to a noticeable increase in the production of these crops.
The findings could be good news for other crops that also rely on pollination, and the method could work for plants such as apples or almonds, scientists say.
“We show that it is possible to condition bees by a rewarding odor inside the colony, and this experience changes the odor-guided behaviors of bees later,” says Walter Farina, who led the research.
“The most surprising and relevant result is that feeding preferences for the target culture are so prolonged and intensive that they favor significant increases in crop yields.”
This is not the first time that Farina and his team have made a significant discovery about bees. Researchers have previously found that bees are able to establish stable long-term memories of the food smells they have encountered in the nest.
These memories then influenced the bees' choices about the crops they would visit in the future.
Flour has been able to use this understanding of hive memories to develop new research on feeding preferences. Scientists have managed to manipulate bees' memories through the artificial smell of sunflowers, causing them to actively choose to visit more sunflowers.