Flowers ‘optimized’ colors for bee vision

MONASH U. (AUS) — Over millions of years, flowers in Australia and Europe have evolved to produce the same colors to attract bees, a new study finds.

Lead researcher Adrian Dyer of the physiology department at Monash University says Australia was a good subject for studying flower evolution because it separated from other continents 34 million years ago.

“Australia’s long-term isolation means that species of plants here and in Europe independently evolved to have similarly colored petals,” says Dyer.

“Our research shows that the common factor here is the known color vision discrimination abilities of bees. The plants have, over time, developed petals that will attract bees to act as pollinators.”


Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study shows that certain plants have optimized their petal colors to be easily perceived by bees. Over time, bees have the capacity to learn to associate these flowers with food.

“Bees have trichromatic vision based on ultraviolet, blue and green photoreceptors, so what they see is very different from what we see. However, bees from around the world all appear to have very similar color vision,” says Dyer.

“Previous research has determined that color vision present in modern bees actually evolved before angiosperms, meaning the plants probably adapted their flower color to take advantage of pre-existing conditions.”

Bees tend to be ‘flower constant’, repeatedly visiting one type of plant if it continues to provide food. Taking advantage of this to maximize bee visits is an efficient way for plants to ensure that pollen is distributed to others in their species, rather than relying on random wind distribution.

“Currently there is little known about plant-pollinator relationships in Australia; this work shows just how important bees have been to influencing flower color evolution on this enormous island continent,” says Dyer.

Scientists from Monash, RMIT University, and the Swedish Museum of Natural History contributed to the study.

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