Revealed: traffic fumes are confusing bees in their hunt for food

Gases emitted by diesel engines mask floral odours that honeybees use to navigate

Science Editor

Traffic fumes can interfere with the critical odour cues used by honeybees to forage for food according to the first detailed study of how pollution can affect a bee's ability to find nectar and pollen.

Tests show that the gases emitted by diesel engines mask the complex chemistry of floral odours that honeybees remember and use to navigate their way through their feeding range.

Further tests found that honeybees are no longer able to recognise the floral odours they use to find food once the scents are mixed with diesel gases in the concentrations typically found near Britain's roadsides.

The findings show how the ability of honeybees to collect food and build up stores of honey is being compromised by one of several "stressors" in their environment, which may also include parasitic infections and pesticides, scientists said.

"This is the first clear research looking at the environment in which honeybees work," said Tracey Newman of the University of Southampton, who led the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"Our results suggest that diesel exhaust pollution alters the components of a synthetic floral odour blend, which affects the honeybee's recognition of the odour," Dr Newman said.

"This could have serious detrimental effects on the number of honeybee colonies and pollination activity…anything that causes bees to forage for longer will have a cost," she said.

A number of studies have found that honeybees are in decline, probably as a result a combination of factors, including the spread of the parasitic varroa mite, the widespread use of pesticides and pollution.

The global economic value of the pollination of flowering crops - such as fruit trees and oilseed rape - by bees and other insects is estimated to be £135 billion a year. In the UK alone the value is estimated at £430m a year.

Although the research was carried out on diesel fumes, the scientists said that petrol exhausts may also have a detrimental effect both on honeybees and bumblebees, which also use floral odours to navigate when foraging for food.

The study involved mixing air containing eight chemicals found in the odour of oilseed rape - a crop heavily reliant on honeybee pollination - with air containing diesel exhaust.

A sensitive analysis of the odour spectrum found that with a minute of the two samples being mixed, six of the eight oilseed rape chemicals were significantly reduced in volume while two disappeared completely, possibly because they reacted with nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the exhaust fumes.

Honeybees that were trained to recognise the complex mix of odour chemicals from oilseed rape were unable to do so once it had been contaminated with diesel fumes, even in the sort of concentrations found by a roadside, the scientists found.

"Honeybees have a sensitive sense of smell and an exceptional ability to learn and memorise new odours," Dr Newman said.

"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," she said.

Professor Guy Poppy of Southampton University said that the research is the first to provide a detailed mechanism that can explain the anecdotal evidence suggesting that traffic fumes can affect honeybees.

"The results indicate that NOx gases - particularly nitrogen dioxide - may be capable to disrupting the odour recognition process that honeybees rely on for locating floral food resources," Professor Poppy said.

"Honeybees use the whole range of chemicals found in a floral blend to discriminate between different blends, and the results suggest that some chemicals in a blend may be more important than others," he said.

Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Maths Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Year 5 Teacher

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments