Note to users. If you're seeing this message, it means that your browser cannot find this page's style/presentation instructions -- or possibly that you are using a browser that does not support current Web standards. Find out more about why this message is appearing, and what you can do to make your experience of our site the best it can be.


Logo for

Science 339 (6124): 1202-1204

Copyright © 2013 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Caffeine in Floral Nectar Enhances a Pollinator's Memory of Reward

G. A. Wright,1,* D. D. Baker,2 M. J. Palmer,3 D. Stabler,1,2 J. A. Mustard,4 E. F. Power,1,2 A. M. Borland,2 P. C. Stevenson5,6

Abstract: Plant defense compounds occur in floral nectar, but their ecological role is not well understood. We provide evidence that plant compounds pharmacologically alter pollinator behavior by enhancing their memory of reward. Honeybees rewarded with caffeine, which occurs naturally in nectar of Coffea and Citrus species, were three times as likely to remember a learned floral scent as were honeybees rewarded with sucrose alone. Caffeine potentiated responses of mushroom body neurons involved in olfactory learning and memory by acting as an adenosine receptor antagonist. Caffeine concentrations in nectar did not exceed the bees' bitter taste threshold, implying that pollinators impose selection for nectar that is pharmacologically active but not repellent. By using a drug to enhance memories of reward, plants secure pollinator fidelity and improve reproductive success.

1 Centre for Behaviour and Evolution, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK.
2 School of Biology, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK.
3 Division of Neuroscience, Medical Research Institute, Ninewells Medical School, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 9SY, UK.
4 School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA.
5 Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey TW9 3AB, UK.
6 Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Chatham, Kent ME4 4TB, UK.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: jeri.wright{at}

Tasting the bitter and the sweet, honeybee memories, and visualizing calcium throughout entire astrocytes.
E. M. Adler (2013)
J. Gen. Physiol. 141, 511-512
   Full Text »    PDF »
Caffeine Boosts Bees' Memories.
L. Chittka and F. Peng (2013)
Science 339, 1157-1159
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »

To Advertise     Find Products

Science Signaling. ISSN 1937-9145 (online), 1945-0877 (print). Pre-2008: Science's STKE. ISSN 1525-8882