Diacetin, a reliable cue and private communication channel in a specialized pollination system

Sci Rep. 2015 Aug 6;5:12779. doi: 10.1038/srep12779.


The interaction between floral oil secreting plants and oil-collecting bees is one of the most specialized of all pollination mutualisms. Yet, the specific stimuli used by the bees to locate their host flowers have remained elusive. This study identifies diacetin, a volatile acetylated glycerol, as a floral signal compound shared by unrelated oil plants from around the globe. Electrophysiological measurements of antennae and behavioural assays identified diacetin as the key volatile used by oil-collecting bees to locate their host flowers. Furthermore, electrophysiological measurements indicate that only oil-collecting bees are capable of detecting diacetin. The structural and obvious biosynthetic similarity between diacetin and associated floral oils make it a reliable cue for oil-collecting bees. It is easily perceived by oil bees, but can't be detected by other potential pollinators. Therefore, diacetin represents the first demonstrated private communication channel in a pollination system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Flowers / chemistry
  • Flowers / metabolism*
  • Oils, Volatile / analysis
  • Oils, Volatile / metabolism*
  • Pollination / physiology*


  • Oils, Volatile