News / Science & Technology

Diesel Exhaust Disrupts Bee's Sense of Smell

Honeybees, a managed species that are trucked to farms, pollinate about 70 percent of the world’s food crops. (photo credit: Tracey Newman)
Honeybees, a managed species that are trucked to farms, pollinate about 70 percent of the world’s food crops. (photo credit: Tracey Newman)
Rosanne Skirble
Air pollution is bad for people.  It has been linked to asthma, respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases and even cancer.

Now comes word that it may also be harmful to bees. 

A new study in the journal Scientific Reports finds that exposure to toxic emissions can affect the insect’s ability to recognize the odor of flowers. That is a big problem because bees - as they fly from flower to flower - pollinate about 70 percent of the world’s food crops.  

Honeybees in decline

Researchers at Britain’s University of Southampton focused on honeybees, a managed species taken to pollinate farmers’ fields.  Each year, about one-third of their hives are wiped out by a mysterious disease called colony collapse disorder.  

Dirty air might play a role.  

The pollinator relies on its vision and acute sense of smell to do its job, says neurobiologist Tracey Newman, lead author of the study.

"Now, it’s faced with a sea of chemistry every time it goes out on a foraging expedition," said Newman. "So, what it has to do is it has to decipher and discern between those different chemicals to hone in on the plants that it knows are going to give it the best reward in terms of nectar and pollen."  

Exposure to pollutants affects the ability of honeybees to recognize a flower's odor and forage, which could compromise the health of the hive. (Tracey Newman)Exposure to pollutants affects the ability of honeybees to recognize a flower's odor and forage, which could compromise the health of the hive. (Tracey Newman)
x
Exposure to pollutants affects the ability of honeybees to recognize a flower's odor and forage, which could compromise the health of the hive. (Tracey Newman)
Exposure to pollutants affects the ability of honeybees to recognize a flower's odor and forage, which could compromise the health of the hive. (Tracey Newman)
Honeybees use odor to locate, identify and recognize the flowers they forage. Newman's team wanted to know how pollutants would change that process.

Their study asks this question: if you have flowers and flower volatiles - flower perfumes - coming off an environment that is polluted, is the bee compromised in any way in its ability and effectiveness to find the flowers that it’s looking for? 

"And in particular," Newman added, "what we wanted to know is not the direct impact on the bee itself, but on the flower chemistry that the bee is having to find."  

Foragers take scent back to hive

Bees find those flowers by memorizing scents in the environment. In controlled lab experiments, the insects were taught to associate the smell of rapeseed flowers with nectar.  Researchers then added diesel exhaust to the mix to see how well bees could identify the chemically altered fragrance.

"And [we] saw marked changes in the responses of the bees to that new, newly altered scent. The response rate in the bees went down to only a quarter of the original learned response," Newman said.

She found that nitric oxides in diesel exhaust emissions reacted with chemicals from the flower and changed or destroyed them. That process makes troubled hives even more vulnerable, a factor she says has been disregarded in the context of honeybee health, until now. 

"However, if you think of a situation, which isn’t hard to imagine, where a bee is dealing with viral infections, mite infections, all the other stresses it has to deal with, another thing that then makes it harder for the bee to work in its environment, so it adds to that list of stresses likely to have detrimental consequences," she said.

Newman and her team have begun field trials to see if they can replicate in the wild what they observed in the lab.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Kerry from: Texas
October 18, 2013 9:56 AM
I wonder if this occurs with biodiesel or just with petroleum based diesel. Trying to switch all truckers off of diesel would never happen, but it could be plausible to switch them to a biodiesel made from non-petroleum products if that could be a step to saving our future food supplies.


by: carin from: usa
October 17, 2013 6:24 PM
Having a big hive near, I will this week get rid of my diesel,I love bees their honey and the way they make people jump funny when they fly around.
We sure do mess things up don't we?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid