Flower-Zapping Diesel Car Fumes are Making it Even Tougher to be a Bee

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

Bees may be our favourite insect, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to lift a finger to help the poor buggers out. The winged beauties are having a really rough ride right now, thanks in part to Wi-Fi signals and pesticides, but it turns out that cars -- specifically diesel-glugging ones -- aren’t helping their cause either.

A team of researchers from the universities of Reading and Southampton have discovered that the fumes ejected by diesel engines are making it a lot harder for bees to find food. Nitrous oxide (NOx) is a pollutant that’s long been known to adversely affect a bee’s sense of smell but, until now, we haven’t realised just how powerful its could be.

It turns out that NOx can chemically alter five of the 11 most common single compounds in floral odours. Simply put, this makes it a lot harder for bees to sniff their favourite flowers and food out.

"This work highlights that pollution from dirty vehicles is not only dangerous to people's health, but could also have an impact on our natural environment and the economy," said lead author Robbie Girling from the University of Reading. "Bees are worth millions to the British economy alone, but we know they have been in decline worldwide. We do not think that air pollution from diesel vehicles is the main reason for this decline, but our latest work suggests that it may have a worse effect on the flower odours needed by bees than we initially thought."

Image credit: Colm via Flickr