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The Festival of Nature returns to Bristol

Bees can get addicted to caffeine just like us.

5 June 2017

The Festival of Nature is back this year in Bristol as the UK's biggest free celebration of all life on earth. With displays and demonstrations from environmental and nature minded institutions across the South West, including Bristol University, this event is a real treat for those who enjoy the natural world.

Among Bristol University's representation will be Tom Timberlake, a PhD student in the University’s School of Biological Sciences.  Tom will be at Festival to explain how plants manipulate their pollinators in many ways by using scent, taste, appearance or even mind-altering chemicals to persuade pollinators to visit them and spread their pollen far and wide.

Tom said: “A priority for most plants is to ensure they receive pollen from distant plants, not just their own flowers. Foxglove flowers act as traffic wardens, ensuring bees only move from bottom to top. Flowers at the bottom of the plant produce more nectar than those at the top. This ensures that bees arrive to the bottom of the plant where the flowers are female. They deposit pollen brought from other plants before moving upwards towards the less nectar rich male flowers at the top. This one-way traffic prevents pollen moving between flowers on the same plant.”

The flowers of coffee plants contain tiny amounts of caffeine in their nectar which enhances a bee’s memory of that nectar and encourages them to pollinate other coffee flowers. Bee orchids, on the other hand, mimic both the appearance and smell of a female bee. When the male begins to mate, he triggers the release of pollen which is transported onto the next flower.

You can meet with Tom and other University researchers on Saturday 10th June, 10am to 6pm and Sunday 11th of June, 10am to 5pm at Bristol harbourside.