Air pollution reduces pollination by changing how insects smell flowers, study finds

‘Findings are worrying because these pollutants are commonly found in air many breathe every day,’ scientist says

Zoe Tidman
Thursday 20 January 2022 17:29
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<p>Common pollutants can affect pollination levels, researchers say</p>

Common pollutants can affect pollination levels, researchers say

Air pollution could be hampering the ability of bees and butterflies to pollinate by changing the scent of flowers, according to a new study.

The presence of common air pollutants - such as those from diesel exhausts - reduced levels of pollination by up to 31 per cent, the researchers found.

The study is the first to identify how air pollution negatively impacts this crucial process in the natural environment.

“We knew from our previous lab studies that diesel exhaust can have negative effects on insect pollinators, but the impacts we found in the field were much more dramatic than we had expected,” Dr Robbie Girling from University of Reading, who led the project, said.

The study - published in journal Science Direct - found there were up to 70 per cent less pollinators in the area when levels of common air pollutants were increased.

Flower visits also dropped by up to 90 per cent with the elevated levels of diesel exhaust fumes and ozone, which both can react with the scent of flowers.

In total, overall pollination dropped by nearly a third.

Dr James Ryalls from the University of Reading said: “The findings are worrying because these pollutants are commonly found in the air many of us breathe every day.”

He added: “We know that these pollutants are bad for our health, and the significant reductions we saw in pollinator numbers and activity shows that there are also clear implications for the natural ecosystems we depend on.”z

Dr Christian Pfrang, a co-author from the University of Birmingham, said this impact of atmospheric pollution had “direct consequences for food production as well as the resilience of our natural environment”.

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