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Air Pollution Confuses Honeybees When Hunting For Food

Posted on by phlorum

Air pollution, especially from traffic exhaust fumes, has a serious impact on honeybees’ ability to recognize flower odors and thus find food. This is according to a study published in Scientific Reports from researchers at the University of Southampton. Honeybees use floral scents to identify, recognize, and locate flowers. Bees have an extremely sensitive sense of smell, and also have the ability to memorize and learn new odors, said Tracey Newman, neuroscientist at the University of Southampton.

The impact of Air Pollution on the scent of flowers might have a serious negative effect on the number of honeybee colonies and the pollination process, Newman added. Approximately 75% of the food crops in the world heavily rely on bees and other natural pollinators, a service estimated at £135 billion every year globally, so we should look at it as critically important for humankind, said Newman.

In recent decades, a serious decline in natural pollinators has been observed. This is mainly due to several factors such as the massive loss of habitats rich in flowers that sustain honeybees, the use of insecticides in agriculture, and disease. The idea that traffic fumes could also be causing problems is troubling, said Guy Poppy, professor and ecologist at the University. Poppy said that diesel exhaust is not the main cause for the issue, but combined with other factors, it is likely to have a significant impact on the health of honeybees.

The study from Southampton University tested the honeybees’ ability to recognize the scent of oil-seed rape flowers in laboratory conditions. They were taught to link floral odors to food in a sugar solution form. Bees recognized the scent without pollutants 98% to 99% of the time, but when the scent was combined with diesel exhaust, they could recognize it only 30% of the time.

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