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Busy as a bee: Caffeine boost for strawberry pollinators

Copyright: James Lee, Flickr

Researchers have known for some time that caffeine can improve a bee’s memory, and that some plants use low levels of caffeine in their nectar to entice bees to their flowers. Now, BBSRC-funded researchers led by Professor Philip Stevenson at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich are using this knowledge to help strawberry growers pollinate their crops more effectively.

Data breakout

£270m Value of strawberries to the UK economy in 2018
1/3 Proportion of UK pollinator species that have declined in number since 1980
133,000 Tonnes of strawberries sold in the UK in 2019
£181k Value of BBSRC-Industry Partnering Award to support the research

Poor pollination leads to misshapen fruit that still needs to be harvested, imposing extra costs on growers. To combat this, strawberry growers rely on commercially bought bee colonies as well as wild pollinators to maximise pollination, but even that isn’t always sufficient.

By exposing bees to caffeinated nectar alongside the scent of strawberry flowers, the researchers improved the commercial bees’ pollination efficiency. The team worked with researchers at NIAB-EMR and commercial partners including UK berry growers Berry Gardens and bumblebee supplier BioBest on the project.

Header image copyright: James Lee, Flickr.