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Crop domestication can lead to weakened expression of plant defences, with repercussions for herbivore and pathogen susceptibility. However, little is known about how domestication alters traits that mediate other important ecological interactions in crops, such as pollination. Secondary metabolites, which underpin many defence responses in plants, also occur widely in nectar and pollen and influence plantpollinator interactions. Thus, domestication may also affect secondary compounds in floral rewards, with potential consequences for pollinators. To test this hypothesis, we chemically analysed nectar and pollen from wild and cultivated plants of highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.), before conducting an artificial diet bioassay to examine pollinator-pathogen interactions. Our results indicated that domestication has significantly altered the chemical composition of V. corymbosum nectar and pollen, and reduced pollen chemical diversity in cultivated plants. Of 20 plant metabolites identified in floral rewards, 13 differed significantly between wild and cultivated plants, with a majority showing positive associations with wild compared to cultivated plants. These included the amino acid phenylalanine (4.5 times higher in wild nectar, 11 times higher in wild pollen), a known bee phagostimulant and essential nutrient; and the antimicrobial caffeic acid ester 4-O-caffeoylshikimic acid (two times higher in wild nectar). We assessed the possible biological relevance of variation in caffeic acid esters in bioassays, using the commercially available 3-O-caffeoylquinic acid. This compound reduced Bombus impatiens infection by a prominent gut pathogen (Crithidia) at concentrations that occurred in wild but not cultivated plants, suggesting that domestication may influence floral traits with consequences for bee health. Appreciable levels of genetic variation and heritability were found for most floral reward chemical traits, indicating good potential for selective breeding. Our study provides the first assessment of plant domestication effects on floral reward chemistry and its potential repercussions for pollinator health. Given the central importance of pollinators for agriculture, we discuss the need to extend such investigations to pollinator-dependent crops more generally and elaborate on future research directions to ascertain wider trends, consequences for pollinators, mechanisms, and breeding solutions.





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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.