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Just what makes that little old ant… change a flower’s nectar content?

TGF-FruitImageApr. 24, 2013 — Ants play a variety of important roles in many ecosystems. As frequent visitors to flowers, they can benefit plants in their role as pollinators when they forage on sugar-rich nectar. However, a new study reveals that this mutualistic relationship may actually have some hidden costs. By transmitting sugar-eating yeasts to the nectar on which they feed, ants may be indirectly altering the nectar-chemistry and thus affecting subsequent pollinator visitations.

Many species of plants benefit from interacting with ants, and some even secrete special sugary substances to attract ants. Plants produce sugar, in the form of nectar, and in exchange ants provide services such as pollination or protection from herbivores.

The main components of nectar that attract pollinators include three dominant sugars — sucrose, fructose, and glucose — and amino acids (or proteins). The chemical composition of nectar differs among plant species and has been thought to be a conservative trait linked to pollinator type. For example, plants pollinated by hummingbirds tend to have nectar with high amounts of sucrose. In addition, nectar composition is thought to be regulated by the plant.

“When people think about how flowers are pollinated, they probably think about bees,” notes Clara de Vega, a postdoctoral researcher at the Estación Biológica de Doñana, Spain. “But ants also pollinate flowers, and I am interested in the role ants play in pollination since it is still poorly understood.”

De Vega joined forces with Carlos M. Herrera, an evolutionary ecologist at the Estación Biológica de Doñana, to investigate the relationship between ant pollinators and nectarivorous yeasts. Nectar-dwelling yeasts, which consume sugars, have recently been discovered in the flowers of many temperate and tropical plant species. De Vega and Herrera have already discovered that some ant species not only carry certain types of sugar-metabolizing yeasts on their bodies, but they also effectively transmit these yeasts to the nectar of flowers they visit.

In their most recent work, published in the American Journal of Botany, De Vega and Herrera investigated whether flowers visited by these ants differed from flowers that were not visited by ants in their sugar chemistry, and whether sugar-chemistry was correlated with the abundance of ant-transmitted yeasts found in the nectar.

By excluding ants from visiting inflorescences of a perennial, parasitic plant, Cytinus hypocistis, and comparing the nectar chemistry to inflorescences that were visited by ants, the authors tested these ideas experimentally.

When the authors compared the sugar content in the nectar of flowers visited by ants versus those enclosed in nylon mesh bags to exclude ants, they found that nectar of flowers exposed to ants had higher levels of fructose and glucose, but lower levels of sucrose compared with the ant-excluded flowers.

Interestingly, in flowers visited by ants, there was a high correlation between yeast cell density and sugar content. Nectar that had higher densities of yeast had more fructose and less sucrose, suggesting that the types of yeasts change the sugar content of the nectar. Flowers that were excluded from ants did not have any yeast in their nectar.

“Our study has revealed that ants can actually change the nectar characteristics of the flowers they are pollinating,” says de Vega. “The microorganisms, specifically yeasts, that are present on the surface of ants change the composition of sugar in the flower´s nectar.”

“This means that nectar composition is not completely controlled by the flower — it is something created in cooperation with the ants that visit the flower,” she notes. “We also think that these ant-transported yeasts might have the potential to affect plant reproduction.”

Indeed, if a plant cannot control the sugar content of its nectar, then it may lose some of its target pollinators, which would potentially affect overall seed set and plant fitness.

Moreover, if introducing these yeasts to nectar changes the chemistry of the very components that serve to attract pollinators, then perhaps ants are indirectly changing the foraging behavior of subsequent flower visitors and thereby affecting seed dispersal patterns.

This study has revealed an additional layer in the complex association between ants and flowering plants, as pollinating ants alter sugar-nectar chemistry in flowers via sugar-consuming yeasts. But the story does not end here. De Vega plans to continue researching the role that these nectarivorous yeasts play on the reproduction of plants.

“I plan to study the whole interaction of plants, yeasts, and pollinators — how are they interrelated and what mechanisms shape these relations?”

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Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by American Journal of Botany, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. de Vega, C. M. Herrera. Microorganisms transported by ants induce changes in floral nectar composition of an ant-pollinated plant. American Journal of Botany, 2013; 100 (4): 792 DOI: 10.3732/ajb.1200626

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

What makes Wegmans’ love potion so powerful?

Brie Dyas called out eight reasons why she and others really LOVE (not just like) Wegmans in a mid-October Huffington Post blog. For Ms. Dyas, the connection is so strong she describes Wegmans as her personal “Cheers” — a place to go to feel like a human again after a particularly trying day. Wow! That’s quite a testimonial.

Learning from the winning formula

Some of her reasons are things we’d all expect — amazing prepared food, high product standards and not too expensive. Others are a little less obvious, but they show that the company is very much in touch with what their customers care about and appreciate when delivered. Among them:

1. The company treats its employees well. It offers educational scholarships, and training can involve trips to where food is produced.

2. It’s a pleasant place to shop. The more-pleasing (less harsh) light levels in the produce department give it the feel of an open-air market, for example.

3. They offer the largest selection of gluten free products, and they’ve been doing so since the 1990s. How’s that for being ahead of the curve?

4. Express checkout lane signs are grammatically correct, a signal that they understand that the little things count.

5. They give gifts to shoppers who sign up for the free membership card, such as coupons for free herb-infused basting oil, a reusable shopping bag and cookbook.

Are you surprised by any of the above reasons? Who else is succeeding with some of the less obvious things that are important to shoppers?

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What makes Wegmans’ love potion so powerful?

Brie Dyas called out eight reasons why she and others really LOVE (not just like) Wegmans in a mid-October Huffington Post blog. For Ms. Dyas, the connection is so strong she describes Wegmans as her personal “Cheers” — a place to go to feel like a human again after a particularly trying day. Wow! That’s quite a testimonial.

Learning from the winning formula

Some of her reasons are things we’d all expect — amazing prepared food, high product standards and not too expensive. Others are a little less obvious, but they show that the company is very much in touch with what their customers care about and appreciate when delivered. Among them:

1. The company treats its employees well. It offers educational scholarships, and training can involve trips to where food is produced.

2. It’s a pleasant place to shop. The more-pleasing (less harsh) light levels in the produce department give it the feel of an open-air market, for example.

3. They offer the largest selection of gluten free products, and they’ve been doing so since the 1990s. How’s that for being ahead of the curve?

4. Express checkout lane signs are grammatically correct, a signal that they understand that the little things count.

5. They give gifts to shoppers who sign up for the free membership card, such as coupons for free herb-infused basting oil, a reusable shopping bag and cookbook.

Are you surprised by any of the above reasons? Who else is succeeding with some of the less obvious things that are important to shoppers?

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Supermarket News

Kroger Makes Progress Towards Zero Waste

CINCINNATI — Kroger here committed to moving retail locations toward “zero waste” and sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil as it published its seventh annual sustainability report.

Kroger said it is moving toward the Environmental Protection Agency’s zero waste threshold of 90% in all Kroger retail locations. To get there, Kroger will increase the diversion rate to 65% for all stores by the end of 2013, and to 70% by the end of 2015. Today, the company diverts 58% of waste.

The company is also committed to sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil by the end of 2015.  Kroger is working with supplier partners to transition out of unsustainable palm oil, as part of an effort prevent the loss of critical habitats, and support the protection of high conservation value forests.

“For 130 years, Kroger has aimed to serve each individual customer, every day, and to be good stewards of our communities and the environment,” said David Dillon, Kroger’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement. “Our sustainability progress today is part of this proud heritage, thanks to more than 343,000 associates who are helping make each community we serve a better place to live.”

In other announcements in the report:

  • Kroger worked with more than 80 local food banks in 2012 to donate the equivalent of 200 million meals.
  • Through energy reduction, the implementation of a refrigerant management plan and improved fleet productivity, Kroger reported a 4.8%  drop in overall carbon footprint, despite growing in size and sales.
  • Since 2000, Kroger has reduced overall energy consumption in stores by 32.7%, saving more than 2.48 billion kilowatt-hourskWh—enough electricity to power every single family home in Columbus, Ohio, for one year.
  • Kroger has increased its fleet efficiency by 33.1% since 2008 and is on track to meet their goal of improved fleet efficiency by 40% by 2014.  The company’s store delivery fleet includes 2,700 tractors and 10,000 trailers and makes almost 5,400 deliveries every day.
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Crabgrass’ secret: The despised weed makes herbicide to kill neighboring plants

June 26, 2013 — Contrary to popular belief, crabgrass does not thrive in lawns, gardens and farm fields by simply crowding out other plants. A new study in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that the much-despised weed actually produces its own herbicides that kill nearby plants.

Chui-Hua Kong and colleagues point out that crabgrass is not only a headache for lawns and home gardens, but also a major cause of crop loss on farms. Scientists long suspected, but had a hard time proving, that the weed thrived by allelopathy. From the Greek “allelo-,” meaning “other,” and “-pathy,” meaning “suffering,” allelopathy occurs when one plant restricts the growth of another by releasing toxins. They set out to determine if crabgrass has this oppressive ability.

Kong’s team isolated three chemicals from crabgrass that affect the microbial communities in nearby soil and did indeed inhibit the growth of staple crops wheat, corn and soybeans. “The chemical-specific changes in [the] soil microbial community generated a negative feedback on crop growth,” the scientists said, noting that the chemicals also would have a direct toxic effect on other plants.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

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Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by American Chemical Society.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bin Zhou, Chui-Hua Kong, Yong-Hua Li, Peng Wang, Xiao-Hua Xu. Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) Allelochemicals That Interfere with Crop Growth and the Soil Microbial Community. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2013; 61 (22): 5310 DOI: 10.1021/jf401605g

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Envy makes believers out of apple fans

With the Washington Envy harvest now under way, the sweet, red apple enters the season inviting consumers to “Bite and Believe.”

The integrated Envy marketing campaign launched at PMA’s Fresh Summit this past weekend. “Bite and Believe” is backed by significant consumer research efforts that ascertained what people are truly looking for in a premium apple, David Nelley, executive director of the Oppenheimer Group’s apple and pear category, said in a press release.Grower-Mark-GoerGrower Mark Goer

“Earlier this year we commissioned a research firm to delve into premium apple varieties,” he said. “Results pinpointed what consumers across the U.S. love about premium apples and Envy in particular. As global production ramps up, the time has come to energize the look and feel of the Envy brand.”

Envy, a natural Royal Gala and Braeburn cross, is distinguished by its deep red hue, its sweetness and its natural resistance to browning when cut. While Envy is also quite popular in Asia, North America is the most mature market for the apple, Nelley said. The campaign, which has been created collaboratively between Oppy and the Envy brand owner ENZA/Turners and Growers of Auckland, New Zealand, will touch many global markets over time.

“‘Bite and Believe’ was inspired in part by the zealous nature of Envy fans everywhere, who have taken it upon themselves to share their discovery of Envy namely via social media,” Nelley said. “To our delight, Envy has gained a host of supporters, including produce managers, moms and apple fans who have gone out of their way to spread the word. We think ‘Bite and Believe’ will be very effective because it encourages trial and promises the reward of a genuine eating experience.”

‘Bite and Believe’ will reach consumers in numerous ways, including in-store signage and shipper units, billboards in key markets, outreach and contests on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and a new website at www.envyapples.com. The clean, contemporary site is highly interactive, encouraging users to submit Envy recipes and pairing ideas, and take part in social media discussions.

“‘Bite and Believe’ and its supporting messages convey the confidence that we at Oppy — and our growers and customers — have in Envy apples,” Nelley said. “This is one special apple, worthy of the buzz. In my opinion, it’s the best apple to emanate from New Zealand since the Royal Gala.

“Envy volumes are increasing but they remain limited,” Nelley said. “We encourage our customers to order early and often, as supplies will move very quickly.”

Envy is available in North America exclusively from The Oppenheimer Group. The Washington season begins in early November and continues through May, with Envy from New Zealand and Chile available June through September.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

AmazonFresh makes Brooklyn debut

AmazonFresh said Friday that it was making its services available to parts of Brooklyn, the Internet giant’s first grocery offering in New York.

The service will initially be available to Amazon Prime customers in certain ZIP codes. Prime members making a minimum purchase of $ 35 can use the service for free through the end of the year then will be required to upgrade to a $ 299 per year subscription, Amazon said.

The offering includes groceries, fresh items and a variety of local shops and restaurants, as well as nongrocery items like toys and books. Amazon said customers placing orders by 10 a.m. could received them by dinner and orders placed by 10 p.m. Will be delivered the following morning.

Amazon will haul items from its distribution facility in Avenel, N.J.

In Park Slope Amazon will compete with a popular co-op and Internet retailers FreshDirect and Peapod.com. The company said that customers who place grocery orders by 10 a.m. will have them by dinner, and orders placed by 10 p.m. will be delivered by breakfast.

While some Brooklynites appeared excited about the new service, others worried about additional congestion.

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AmazonFresh makes Brooklyn debut

AmazonFresh said Friday that it was making its services available to parts of Brooklyn, the Internet giant’s first grocery offering in New York.

The service will initially be available to Amazon Prime customers in certain ZIP codes. Prime members making a minimum purchase of $ 35 can use the service for free through the end of the year then will be required to upgrade to a $ 299 per year subscription, Amazon said.

The offering includes groceries, fresh items and a variety of local shops and restaurants, as well as nongrocery items like toys and books. Amazon said customers placing orders by 10 a.m. could received them by dinner and orders placed by 10 p.m. Will be delivered the following morning.

Amazon will haul items from its distribution facility in Avenel, N.J.

In Park Slope Amazon will compete with a popular co-op and Internet retailers FreshDirect and Peapod.com. The company said that customers who place grocery orders by 10 a.m. will have them by dinner, and orders placed by 10 p.m. will be delivered by breakfast.

While some Brooklynites appeared excited about the new service, others worried about additional congestion.

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US: Short crop from Mexico makes for tight mango market

With fewer mangos coming from Mexico, the market for mangos in the United States is tight. Peak volumes from Brazil are still a couple of weeks away and peak volumes from Ecuador are more than a month away, so the gap in supplies could mean strong prices for several weeks.

“Supplies from Mexico are finishing up,” said Gary Clevenger of Freska Produce International. “Overall volume is down from last year.” As of the fourth week in September, mango imports from Mexico totalled just over 57 million boxes. The total imports from Mexico for the same week last year were almost 15 million boxes more than that. While imports this year kept pace with those from last year for most of the season, the last couple of months have seen a drop in the amount of fruit arriving from Mexico. While imports from Mexico were almost 700,000 boxes for the fourth week of September in 2013, this year’s weekly shipments for the fourth week of September were just over 250,000 boxes.

Because supplies from Mexico dropped off earlier than usual, there’s a larger gap between the Mexican season and the Brazilian season.

“Brazil is at peak packing this week, so we’ll see those arrivals around the middle of October,” said Clevenger. “Ecuador won’t peak until mid to late November.” That’s making for stiff prices. As of October 2, F.O.B. prices for fruit arriving in Philadelphia from South America ranged between $ 9.00 and $ 10.50 for a box of Tommy Atkins mangos.

“Prices are higher due to less volume and Mexico ending earlier,” explained Clevenger. “We’re going to have a serious gap for the next couple of weeks, so prices will remain high. The market will remain steady from now until the middle of October, then we’ll have peak volumes out of Brazil.”

For more information:

Gary Clevenger

Freska Produce International

+1 805 650 1040

FreshPlaza.com

Plum Market Makes Chicago Debut

CHICAGO — Plum Market, the three-store upscale operator based in Farmington, Hills, Mich., is set to make its Windy City debut on Wednesday.


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The chain, founded in 2007 by Whole Foods Market veterans Matt and Marc Jonna — brothers who themselves are third-generation retailers — currently has locations in Bloomfield Township, Ann Arbor and West Bloomfield, Mich.

The newest store, on North Wells Street in the Old Town area of Chicago, will specialize in high-quality grocery offerings, prepared foods and an extensive beverage program with educational tasting events in its wine bar, a selection of domestic and imported craft beers, premium and hard-to-find spirits, and popular and boutique wines. The store will also feature an “apothecary” with a large selection of vitamins and supplements, housewares, “green living products” and all natural body care.

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Plum Market Makes Chicago Debut

CHICAGO — Plum Market, the three-store upscale operator based in Farmington, Hills, Mich., is set to make its Windy City debut on Wednesday.


CONNECT WITH SN ON TWITTER

Follow @SN_News for updates throughout the day.


The chain, founded in 2007 by Whole Foods Market veterans Matt and Marc Jonna — brothers who themselves are third-generation retailers — currently has locations in Bloomfield Township, Ann Arbor and West Bloomfield, Mich.

The newest store, on North Wells Street in the Old Town area of Chicago, will specialize in high-quality grocery offerings, prepared foods and an extensive beverage program with educational tasting events in its wine bar, a selection of domestic and imported craft beers, premium and hard-to-find spirits, and popular and boutique wines. The store will also feature an “apothecary” with a large selection of vitamins and supplements, housewares, “green living products” and all natural body care.

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