Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: University of Bristol
Dates: Sep 2008-Aug 2013
Summary: In the course of their evolution, insects have developed very refined sensory systems. Some of these senses are unique to insects; humans do not possess them. We therefore cannot always rely on our "own sense" of the situation when looking at insects and how they live. One such example is our recent research on how bees can sense the weak electric field surrounding flowers. We could show, using training experiments, that bumble bees can use electric fields to learn to chose between flowers containing sucrose (an attractive reward ) or quinine (unattractive bitter taste). We could also show that bumblebees can tell apart two close shades of green when they are presented with additional information, in the form for example the smell of lavender... replacing the lavender with an electric field has the same effect... bees learn faster when they have additional information about their environment. This research is important because it opens up a new sensory world, at least for insects, that was unknown and invisible before, that of the weak electric field that surround every object, plant or animals. A potential impact of this research is to contribute explaining the potential role of electric fields in the sensory biology and life history of plants and animals, a subject that has received only limited scientific attention in the past.