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A bumblebee worker damaging a plant leaf. Photo: Hannier Pulido, De Moraes and Mescher Laboratories

For tens of millions of years, bees and flowers have evolved together. Flowering provides bees with food, and pollination gives plants a means of reproduction.

What's new: Bumblebee workers appear to be able to control that synchronized symbiosis by damaging the leaves of plants, according to a new study in the journal Science.

What they did: In a set of experiments in the lab and outside, Foteini Pashalidou, Harriet Lambert and their colleagues at ETH Zürich found pollen-starved B. terrestris bees bit holes in leaves, but well-fed bees did not.

  • In another experiment, they placed bees deprived of pollen in mesh cages with either tomato or black mustard plants. They found the speed of flowering increased (one month ahead of schedule for tomatoes and two weeks for black mustard plants).

It's unclear how bees learned this biting behavior and why plants respond by flowering.

  • The researchers compared bites by bees and those made with razors, and they found the damage from bees sped flowering up more than that done mechanically.
  • One possibility is that as bees bite the plant, they inject chemicals that speed up flowering.
"If so, scientists might realize a horticulturist’s dream by deciphering the molecular pathways through which flowering can be accelerated by a full month."
— Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London wrote in an accompanying paper

The big picture: Climate change is threatening the timing of the relationship between plants and bees, and it risks starving bees that are emerging early from hibernation.

  • Bee-inflicted damage may provide resilience to the important relationship between flowering and pollination that is under threat, the authors write.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
37 mins ago - Health

Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's plan to accelerate the reopening of K-8 schools faces major challenges from a still out-of-control pandemic and more contagious coronavirus variants.

Why it matters: The longer American kids miss in-person schooling, the further they fall behind. But the uncertain state of the science on the role young children play in the pandemic continues to complicate efforts to reopen schools.

Focus group: Former Trump voters say he should never hold office again

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Relief" is the top emotion some swing voters who used to support Donald Trump say they felt as they watched President Biden's swearing-in, followed by "hope."

Why it matters: For voters on the bubble between parties, this moment is less about excitement for Biden or liberal politics than exhaustion and disgust with Trump and a craving for national healing. Most said Trump should be prohibited from ever holding office again.

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.