When it comes to air pollutants, most reports generally discuss pollution’s impact on human civilization. Dirty air isn’t just a problem for people, however; a recent study has found that airborne contaminants can also have a detrimental impact on bees.
According to researchers at Penn State University, air pollution significantly interferes with the ability of bees to locate much-needed food. Not only does pollution effectively confuse bees, but it also mixes in with the scent particles released by flowers. Flowers depend on such molecules to lure hungry bees; pollutants disrupt this process by hindering these particles’ traveling capabilities, in addition to slashing their lifespans.
As noted by study author Jose Fuentes, scent molecules have a long distance to travel before encountering their targets. “Many insects have nests that are up to 3,000 feet away from their food source, which means that scents need to travel long distances before insects can detect them,” stated the meteorology and atmospheric science professor in a university press release. “Each insect has a detection threshold for certain kinds of scents and they find food by moving from areas of low concentrations of scents to areas of high concentrations.”
Computers Tell the Tale
The research team reached their conclusions with the aid of computer simulations. These models were able to project how common pollutants, such as particulate matter, affect fragrance molecules after they take off from their flowery launching pads. With this step complete, the team combined their model data with numerous simulations of bee food-foraging patterns. A total of 90,000 of such simulations were conducted, each with differing levels of both wind and aerial contaminants.
By understanding how pollutants affect bees, Fuentes contends that it could be possible to preserve the bee population via pollution reduction efforts. “Honeybees and other pollinators are in trouble almost everywhere, and they pay us a lot of services through their pollination. The more we can understand about what factors are affecting their decline in numbers, the more equipped we will be to intervene if needed.” The report appeared in the journal Atmospheric Environment.