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New research from Stellenbosch University (SU) in South Africa shows that, in an extraordinary case of adaptation, the disproportionately long front legs of South Africa's oil-collecting Rediviva bee species have evolved in response to the equally long oil-producing spurs of snapdragons.
"This is one of the few examples where a pollinator had to adapt to the flowers that it pollinates, rather than the other way round," explains Prof Anton Pauw, lead author of the article 'Long-legged bees make adaptive leaps: linking adaptation to coevolution in a plant-pollinator network', published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biology today.
Prof - Pauw - Ecologist - Department - Botany
Prof Pauw, an evolutionary ecologist in the Department of Botany and Zoology at SU, says pollinators often hold the key to understanding the genesis of floral diversity. In other words, the flowers of plants have adapted to their pollinators in spectacular ways in order to be able to reproduce.
In this case, however, the little-known Rediviva bee species have developed front legs of varying lengths - from 6.9 to 23.4 mm long - in order to reach the oil produced deep at the back of the snapdragon's twin spurs. The length of these spurs also vary from species to species, with 70 species in the largest genus of oil-producing flowers (Diascia).
Bees - Front - Legs - Dense - Pile
The bees' front legs are coated in a dense pile of velvety hairs that soak up the oil, which is then mixed with pollen to form a super-nutritious bread for the larvae in their underground nests....
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