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  • 11.06.15

Diesel Fumes Change How Flowers Smell, So Bees Can’t Find Them

Another problem for bees, as if they didn’t already have enough.

Diesel Fumes Change How Flowers Smell, So Bees Can’t Find Them
[Top Photo: USGS Bee Inventory]

Now there’s yet another reason to hate pollution: it’s confusing bees. Specifically, diesel fumes are confusing bees’ sense of smell, which they use to track down food.

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The problem is NOx, or nitrous oxide, which is pumped out into the atmosphere by diesel exhausts. It’s bad for humans, and now we have evidence that NOx is bad for bees, too–it’s just one more stress that bees have to deal with in the modern world.

Researchers from Reading and Southampton Universities found that NOx isn’t just masking plant smells, but chemically altering them. Of the eleven compounds most commonly found in flower odors, five are changed by exposure to diesel exhaust.

This means that bees can’t detect these flowers by smell, potentially missing out on a meal, and also failing to pollinate the affected flowers.

Flickr user Paul van de Velde

“People rely on bees and pollinating insects for a large proportion of our food, yet humans have paid the bees back with habitat destruction, insecticides, climate change and air pollution,” says the study’s lead author, Robbie Girling, in a release.

“Our research highlights that a further stress could be the increasing amounts of vehicle emissions affecting air quality,” said co-author Guy Poppy.

Bee decline continues to be big news, most likely because the farm industry needs bees in order to function. “This work highlights that pollution from dirty vehicles is not only dangerous to people’s health, but could also have an impact on our natural environment and the economy,” Poppy says.

Our dinner tables would be pretty bare without bees’ help, and science is discovering way to help them in return–with vaccines for example.

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Maybe the best example of bee-friendliness is Norway’s capital city, Oslo. Not only is the city encouraging bee highways, which offers flowery, green rest stops along common bee routes, but it also plans to ban cars from its city center in four years, which–in then light of this new research–will be another bee boon.

About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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