Madrid, 22 (Europe Press)
A team of researchers at Cornell University and colleagues from Harvard University and the Montgomery Plant Center discovered that the weevil responsible for pollinating the Zamia forfuracea plant was as sensitive to moisture as it was to odor.
“The world of insect-plant interactions has been dramatically changed by the work that has been done on visual and olfactory cues,” said first author Sheila Salzman, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Plant Biology in the School for Integrative Plants. Sciences, at Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). “Now we’re beginning to realize how many other factors are at play in plant reproduction, influencing decision making, pollination, and insect success.”
Co-authors include Robert Ragoso, Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior (CALS) and Ajinkia Dahaki, PhD student in Ragoso’s lab.
Dahake was the first author of a groundbreaking study published in 2022 in Nature Communications that found that moisture acted as a cue to encourage hawk moths to pollinate Datura wrightii. Taken together, the studies show that two closely related plants use moisture effectively to encourage pollination, Dahke says.
“Prior to our research, moisture was considered to be the result of nectar evaporation only, which is a side note,” he said. “What we found is that this is an active process in the flower, coming from specialized cells, and these organisms may have evolved to characterize this release of moisture, because it attracts pollinators.”
Until now, the study of pollination and plant-insect interactions has focused on visual and olfactory cues, which are the senses that humans can also interpret. Insects, however, are more adept at detecting changes in humidity, carbon dioxide and temperature than humans, Salzman said.
“Especially because climate change directly affects exactly those things, it’s critical that we understand how insects use all that information in their interactions with plants,” he said.
For example, farmers and food distributors can use this information to encourage pollination of food crops or to lure insects away from stored food into traps, Salzman said.
While humans need relatively large changes in humidity before we feel a difference, Dahik said, insects can sense small changes.
“Insects have specialized receptors that respond to very small changes in humidity: even a change of 0.2% to 0.3% will trigger neurons,” he said. “Even a one-part-per-million change in carbon dioxide concentration will trigger a response from insect neurons. What does that mean from a behavioral standpoint? We’re just beginning to scratch the surface.”