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The bee, the flower, and the electric field: electric ecology and aerial electroreception

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-748
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A
Issue number9
Early online date24 Jun 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 27 Apr 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jun 2017
DatePublished (current) - Sep 2017


Bees and flowering plants have a long-standing and remarkable co-evolutionary history. Flowers and bees evolved traits that enable pollination, a process that is as important to plants as it is for pollinating insects. From the sensory ecological viewpoint, bee-flower interactions rely on senses such as vision, olfaction, humidity sensing, and touch. Recently, another sensory modality has been unveiled; the detection of the weak electrostatic field that arises between a flower and a bee. Here, we present our latest understanding of how these electric interactions arise and how they contribute to pollination and electroreception. Finite-element modelling and experimental evidence offer new insights into how these interactions are organised and how they can be further studied. Focussing on pollen transfer, we deconstruct some of the salient features of the three ingredients that enable electrostatic interactions, namely the atmospheric electric field, the capacity of bees to accumulate positive charge, and the propensity of plants to be relatively negatively charged. This article also aims at highlighting areas in need of further investigation, where more research is required to better understand the mechanisms of electrostatic interactions and aerial electroreception.

    Research areas

  • Bees, Plants, Electric fields, Pollen, mechanoreception

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    Licence: CC BY


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