Diesel exhaust may play a role in Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, which is threatening bee populations and essential crop pollination worldwide.
Bees use both visual and olfactory cues to locate and identify nectar-producing flowers. The ‘smell’ the bees recognise is made up of volatile floral compounds from flowers which can be transformed when they react with airborne pollutants. Researchers at the University of Southampton have found that nitrous oxides, a major component of diesel exhausts, can alter floral odours to such an extent that bees are no longer able to recognise their smell.
Colony Collapse Disorder describes a phenomenon where a whole colony of bees suddenly disappear from their hive. Suspected causes have included the use of neonicotinoid insecticides, fungicides, varroa mite infestations and gut parasites. Now we add diesel pollution to an every-growing human-caused list.
Dr Newman, a neuroscientist at the University, comments: “Honeybees have a sensitive sense of smell and an exceptional ability to learn and memorize new odours. NOx gases represent some of the most reactive gases produced from diesel combustion and other fossil fuels, but the emissions limits for nitrogen dioxide are regularly exceeded, especially in urban areas. Our results suggest that that diesel exhaust pollution alters the components of a synthetic floral odour blend, which affects the honeybee’s recognition of the odour. This could have serious detrimental effects on the number of honeybee colonies and pollination activity.”
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