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Picky Eaters

On the menu: plants with nutrient-rich pollen.

Bumble bee

Bumble bees have discriminating palettes when it comes to their pollen meals, according to researchers in the college. The scientists found that bumble bees can detect the nutritional quality of pollen, and that this ability helps them selectively forage among plant species to optimize their diets.

"Populations of many bee species are in decline across the world, and poor nutrition is thought to be a major factor causing these declines," said Christina Grozinger, director of the Center for Pollinator Research. "Our studies can help identify plant species and stocks that provide high-quality nutrition for bumble bees and potentially other bee species, which will help in the development of pollinator- friendly gardens and planting strips."

According to Anthony Vaudo, a graduate student in entomology who led the study, scientists previously believed that bees' preferences for flowering plants were driven by floral traits, such as color, scent, morphology, or nectar concentration.

"Here we show that bumble bees actually choose a plant for the nutritional quality of its pollen," said Vaudo. "We found that bumble bees preferentially visited plants with pollen that had high ratios of pollen to lipids."

The results appear in the June 27 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

--Sara LaJeunesse