The following image, captured in Bogotá, depicts insects which possess ultraviolet photoreceptors. This is significant as it provides an explanation as to why certain modern flowers have developed specific colors – the flowers evolved these colors in response to the colors that these insects can most easily perceive.(Photo Credit: Afp)
This concept is at the center of recent research conducted in Madrid, led by a team of experts from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. The researchers utilized computer simulations to delve into the ancient connection between bees and the evolution of flower colors.
Their findings, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, are based on simulations of landscapes from tens of millions of years ago, when the first flowering plants emerged. The aim was to examine the visibility of these early flowers to pollinators such as bees and birds.
Notably, the research was led by Associate Professor Alan Dorin, the director of the NativeBee+Tech facility at Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology. Dorin pointed out that insects like bees developed visual perception well before the first flowers came into existence, aiding them in navigating their environment filled with rocks, leaves, sticks, and bark.
Dorin stated in an announcement:
Our findings suggest that early flowers evolved to have brighter colors in order to stand out from their drab backgrounds and attract these ancient pollinators.
The researchers wanted to determine if present-day bees perceive their environment in the same way their ancestors did. To do so, they tested the color perception of bees in simulated prehistoric environments.
Dorin further explained their methodology:
Given that Australia is a geologically ancient continent, we used measurements of the color spectrum of Australian bushland, ranging from Cairns to the southernmost point of Victoria, to recreate landscapes from the Mesozoic era when the first flowers evolved. This era spanned from 252 million to 66 million years ago.
Associate Professor Adrian Dyer, a vision scientist and co-author of the study from the Department of Physiology at Monash Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, stated that this is the first study to establish a robust link between the visual perception of ancient pollinators and modern bees, and how this has influenced the evolution of flower color.
Our findings show that like their ancestors, modern bees have ultraviolet (UV), blue, and green photoreceptors. This explains why many modern flowers have developed common colors, such as yellow petals – these colors can be easily perceived by these insects.
The insights gained from this research could be instrumental in understanding how contemporary plant species are pollinated. This could further the study of intelligent agriculture and potentially open up new avenues for research in efficient crop fertilization.