Researchers recently discovered that honeybees get a memory boost from caffeine, both short-term and long-term. In their study, honeybees that consumed a solution with sugar and caffeine were three times more likely to remember a flower’s scent than honeybees that consumed a solution with just sugar. Three times as many bees that drank the first solution remembered the scent a day later and twice as many bees remembered the scent after three days.
This connection does not just help bees with their “foraging prowess” but also benefits plants that contain caffeinated nectar. According to lead researcher Dr Geraldine Wright, bees that drink the caffeine-laced nectar will carry the coffee pollen to other plants, leading to greater pollination.
Researchers found that the nectar of coffee and citrus plants contains low levels of caffeine. Caffeine generally acts as a defense mechanism in plants with its bitter and unappealing taste, so the presence of caffeine in the nectar surprised Phil Stevenson of the Royal Botanic Gardens. However, the nectar of these plants contained just enough caffeine to affect bee behavior, and not enough to give a bitter taste.
So what does this correlation between caffeine and bees have to do with us?This project was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, as populations of bees have been declining. Understanding the preferences of bees could provide clues to reinvigorating the species, protecting the balance of our natural ecosystems and agriculture.
The study will also allow scientists further comprehension into how caffeine affects the brain. Although honeybee brains and human brains clearly differ, at the cellular and genetic level, they function similarly. Thus, Dr. Julie Mustard of Arizona State University concludes, “we can use the honeybee to investigate how caffeine affects our own brains and behaviors.” Perhaps their study can explain why many people drink coffee while studying. What do you think?