Honeybees tolerate cyanogenic glucosides from clover nectar and flowers

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Honeybees (Apis mellifera) pollinate flowers and collect nectar from many important crops. White clover (Trifolium repens) is widely grown as a temperate forage crop, and requires honeybee pollination for seed set. In this study, using a quantitative LC-MS (Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry) assay, we show that the cyanogenic glucosides linamarin and lotaustralin are present in the leaves, sepals, petals, anthers, and nectar of T. repens. Cyanogenic glucosides are generally thought to be defense compounds, releasing toxic hydrogen cyanide upon degradation. However, increasing evidence indicates that plant secondary metabolites found in nectar may protect pollinators from disease or predators. In a laboratory survival study with chronic feeding of secondary metabolites, we show that honeybees can ingest the cyanogenic glucosides linamarin and amygdalin at naturally occurring concentrations with no ill effects, even though they have enzyme activity towards degradation of cyanogenic glucosides. This suggests that honeybees can ingest and tolerate cyanogenic glucosides from flower nectar. Honeybees retain only a portion of ingested cyanogenic glucosides. Whether they detoxify the rest using rhodanese or deposit them in the hive should be the focus of further research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
Issue number1
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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