Prime pollinators are bees knees when it comes to colours
Flower power ... bees determine a petal's colours. Photo: Angela Wylie
THE power of the prime pollinator has been revealed, with research showing native bees have determined the colour of Australian flowers.
The findings, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show Australian flowering plants have evolved to match the colour vision capabilities of native bees over other key pollinators such as birds and butterflies.
The findings mirror results from European studies and are an important proof of concept because Australian flora and fauna evolved in isolation over 34 million years.
''We now know that this is a general principal that can be applied across the world,'' said Adrian Dyer from RMIT University, the lead author on the paper with scientists from Monash University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History.
Dr Dyer said researchers were able to establish the bee was the preferred pollinator because the flower colours that have most frequently evolved in Australia fit only to the colour discrimination of bees, not birds or butterflies.
More than 110 different native plant species were used in the study, collected from Balwyn's Maranoa Gardens in Victoria over eight months from May 2009. A UV photograph was taken of a flower from each plant and the colours analysed to see which of the pollinators could detect their colours.
Australian native bees have UV, blue and green colour photoreceptors, as do their northern hemisphere honey bee relations. There are two classes of birds: one that sees UV blue, green and red, and the other, which sees UV violet, blue, green and red. Humans have blue, green and red photoreceptors.
Dr Dyer said while a flower appeared yellow to humans, the same flower appeared pink with a red centre to bees. It would look different again to birds.
''Flowers look more dazzling to insect pollinators because they have evolved spectoral signals to best suit bees,'' Dr Dyer said. ''Bees see a two-coloured flower because the petals reflect ultraviolet and the inner part doesn't.''