11 Dec 2010

New vision of what goes on in nectar sector

10:01 pm on 11 December 2010

A British university has launched an online database allowing researchers to simulate how bees and other pollinating insects see flowers in the ultraviolet spectrum that is invisible to humans.

Scientists say the results can be startling: flowers that seem plain to human eyes appear in UV light to have concentric circles of colour that draw insects towards the nectar they feed on.

The Floral Reflectance Database (FReD) was created by researchers at Imperial College, London, and Queen Mary, University of London.

It enables researchers to "see" plant colours through the eyes of bees and other pollinating insects.

The BBC reports that details of the free database are published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Commercial applications envisaged

Asked what the point of FReD is, Professor Lars Chittka of Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences says seeing the invisible colours may have commercial applications in the greenhouse and beyond.

"Every third bite that you consume at the dinner table is the result of insect pollinators' work," Professor Chittka says.

"We need to understand what kind of a light climate we need to generate in commercial glasshouses to facilitate detection of flowers by bees."

Co-author Professor Vincent Savolainen, of Imperial College, says it may also help biologists to understand how plants have evolved in different habitats.