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The almond tree's secret weapon
Date:1/28/2010

liter. A second experiment monitored levels much higher than those found in the natural form: 5-50 milligrams per liter. In both cases and for each of the compositions, the bees preferred nectar containing amygdalin over the amygdalin-free option.

"It is difficult and sometimes impossible to determine the workings of evolution, but it is likely that amygdalin is produced in the almond nectar so as to give the almond tree an advantage in reproduction. Based on our observations, we can make a guess at which mechanisms come into play for amygdalin to provide this advantage," Prof. Izhaki explains. For example, even though amygdalin is poisonous for mammals, it is not poisonous for insects, such as the honey bee, and it even produces a stimulant that attracts such insects. Therefore, it is possible that the plant produces it so as to attract potential pollinators. Another possibility is that the almond tree has developed this substance in its nectar as a form of filter: it repulses "non-expert" pollinators, but gives access to the "experts" that have built up resistance to the toxin while providing efficient pollination services for the plant.

The research team, in collaboration with Dr. Malka Halpern, Dr. Yoram Gerchman and research students Svetlana Friedman and Yana Gerstein, are presently examining the possibility of there being an additional mechanism in play: that the nectar toxin prevents inhabitation of bacteria that could spoil the nectar's quality and harm its appeal for potential pollinators, thereby impeding the tree's chances of pollination.

"Pollinating insects have always been lacking, so plants have had to develop ways to take the lead in attracting those that are available, in competition with other plants. Otherwise, they will not be able to reproduce. This is more than just a hypothesis: it is a very practical theory. For reasons that are not fully clear, there is a significant shortage of bees in the world. The worldwide scar
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Contact: Rachel Feldman
rfeldman@univ.haifa.ac.il
972-482-88722
University of Haifa
Source:Eurekalert

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