Traffic Fumes Cause Honeybees To Get Confused
Honeybees rely on their acute sense of smell to navigate the environment and locate flowers for pollen collection. But car exhaust in urban areas is screwing with the bees' ability to recognize when food is near, according to a new study in Britain, published in the journal Scientific Reports. Researchers looked at the effects of traffic fumes on honeybees and found that in the presence of diesel engine gases, most bees were unable to sniff out flowers.
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The team of researchers from the University of Southampton tested how well forager bees were able to navigate in the presence of car exhaust and compared it to how quickly they could locate flowers with no fumes present.
To do so, they first tethered the bees down and trained them to react to the scent of the oilseed rape flower, a bright yellow flower found throughout Europe and North America. Their Pavlovian experiment involved researchers presenting the honeybees with a sugar solution whenever the scent of the flower was in the room. Soon, the honeybees began sticking their tongues out whenever they smelled the flower, even if no food was offered.
Once the bees' behavior indicated they recognized the flower odor, researchers presented the scent without pollutants. The honeybees had no problem identifying the scent of the flower, and reacted 98 to 99 percent of the time, The Guardian reports.
However, when the odor was mixed with gasoline fumes at concentrations similar to those found along the road, the bees' recognized the flower scent just 30 percent of the time.
"Our results suggest that diesel exhaust pollution alters the components of a synthetic floral odor blend, which affects the honeybee's recognition of the odor," said Tracey Newman of the University of Southampton, who led the study, according to The Independent. "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."
The chemical mostly responsible for messing with the bees' sense of smell was nitrogen oxides, or NOx. The chemical has the ability to alter the chemical makeup of other scents, or simply eliminate them entirely, The Atlantic reports.
This poses a problem for bees, which rely on the scent of flowers for finding and mining pollen to take back to their hives.
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