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Online Database Offers Bee’s-Eye View Of Plants

December 13, 2010

Researchers from Imperial College London and Queen Mary, University of London have created an online database that allows users to see flower colors through the eyes of a bee.

The database, which is entitled the Floral Reflectance Database (FReD), is referenced in the latest edition of the journal PLoS One as “a valuable new tool for researchers interested in the colors of flowers and their association with pollinator color vision, containing raw spectral reflectance data for a large number of flower species.”

“The database allows users to download spectral reflectance data for flower species collected from all over the world,” added authors Sarah E. J. Arnold, Samia Faruq, Vincent Savolainen, Peter W. McOwan, and Lars Chittka. “These could, for example, be used in modeling interactions between pollinator vision and plant signals, or analyses of flower colors in various habitats.”

According to the FReD website, international researchers can either submit or download data on floral color and reflectance. It features a keyword search function, and allows users to sort the information by a number of fields, including the genus and species of the plant, the location of the specimen, and the wavelength of each sample. There is no charge to use the database.

“This research highlights that the world we see is not the physical or the ‘real’ world–different animals have very different senses, depending on the environment the animals operate in,” Chittka, a member of the Queen Mary School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, told BBC News Science Reporter Neil Bowdler on Friday.

“Much of the colored world that’s accessible to bees and other animals with UV receptors is entirely invisible for us. In order to see that invisible part of the world, we need this special machinery,” he added. “In order to utilize insects for commercial pollination purposes, we need to understand how insects see flowers”¦ We need to understand what kind of a light climate we need to generate in commercial glass houses to facilitate detection of flowers by bees.”

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