Study: Diesel fumes not so good for bees

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UK scientists say diesel exhaust fumes prevent bees from finding food. @bberwyn photo.

Scientists say nitrous oxide cuts the availability of flower scents

Staff Report

It’s pretty tough to smell the flowers when the air is polluted by exhaust fumes from heavy traffic, and a new study shows that may go double for bees.

In polluted environments, diesel fumes may be reducing the availability of almost half the most common flower odors that bees use to find their food, according to researchers in the UK.

The study found that nitrous oxide from diesel exhaust fumes literally changes the chemistry of some flower scents to the detriment of bees. Nitrous oxide is a poisonous pollutant produced by diesel engines which is harmful to humans, and has also previously been shown to confuse bees’ sense of smell, which they rely on to sniff out their food.

“Bees are worth millions to the British economy alone, but we know they have been in decline worldwide,” said Dr. Robbie Girling, from the University of Reading’s Centre for Agri-Environmental Research. “”We don’t think that air pollution from diesel vehicles is the main reason for this decline, but our latest work suggests that it may have a worse effect on the flower odors needed by bees than we initially thought,” Girling siad.

“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. 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,” he added.

“It is becoming clear that bees are at risk from a range of stresses from neonicitinoid insecticides through to varroa mites,” said study co-author Professor Guy Poppy, a University of Southampton biologist.

“Our research highlights that a further stress could be the increasing amounts of vehicle emissions affecting air quality. Whilst it is unlikely that these emissions by themselves could be affecting bee populations, combined with the other stresses, it could be the tipping point,” Poppy added.

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