By: Amanda Froelich,
Every choice has a consequence, an admonishment which is finally starting to be understood in our world of technological advances and consumer driven society. Especially pertaining to the usage of petroleum-based fuel sources, of rising concern is the environmental impact man’s unsustainable lifestyle has had and is having on wildlife, notably the bee.
Responsible for more than just creating honey, the extent of a bee’s impact on the worldwide chain has yet to be fully understood. The diligent and hard working bee is an integral player in cross pollination. Gathering nectar and pollen, the ‘gold dust’ of nature, the bee shares the life force between plants, supporting nature’s desire to reproduce and create food which sustains other insects, animals, and man.
Normally honeybees use floral odors to find flowers that will yield the best pollen and nectar, but the induction of diesel fumes into the environment has now been shown to distort their ability to locate and recognize plants, a potentially dangerous situation for pollination of plants and global food security. Without cross pollination, the whole world suffers.
British researchers made this discovery after taking eight chemicals found in the odor of oilseed rape flowers and mixing them with clean air, which had no impact on the scent, and diesel fumes. When the floral odors were mixed with diesel fumes, six of the eight chemicals reduced in volume and two disappeared completely within a minute, changing the chemical mix of the scent as it reacted with nitrogen oxides (NOx) found in exhaust fumes.
Researchers from the University of Southampton then trained the honeybees to recognize a synthetic oilseed rape perfume by giving the bees a sugar solution when they were exposed to the scent so that they learned to stick out their proboscis when they smelled it.
The study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that when they were exposed to a synthetic floral odor which had the chemicals affected by nitrogen oxide removed, they proportion of honey bees able to recognize the scent was significantly reduced. Researchers said the number of bees recognizing the odor fell from 100 percent to 30 percent when both the chemicals affected by nitrogen oxide were taken out of the scent.
Dr. Tracey Newman, a neuroscientist at the university, summarized the uneasy findings: “Diesel exposure alters floral odors and it’s a significant enough change in the chemistry on the honeybee’s ability to recognize that odor.”
With untold amounts of diesel fumes inexhaustibly being put out into the atmosphere, this explains one factor of why the bee population is taking a massive hit. Aside from electromagnetic frequencies disrupting their normal flight patterns and migration, the bee’s pure sensor receptors are also being dampened and confused due to man-created exhaust.
“It’s not just about a bee getting confused because there’s a new smell around, it’s that the odor itself is being chemically altered.’ Newman continued.
The scientists focused on diesel because they were also interested in the impact on bee foraging of particulates (PMs), which are known to harm human health and are found in much higher levels of diesel.
But as nitrogen oxides – nitrogen oxide and nitric oxide – are also found in petrol fumes, the pollution from much of the road transport could have an effect, they said. Harming the forager bees’ ability to find the flowers from which they get pollen and nectar is likely to damage the success of the colony hive, affecting the number of colonies and the pollination of crops that are important to humans.
An ecologist at the University of Southampton, Professor Guy Poppy, stated their importance: “Honeybee pollination can significantly increase the yield of crops and they are vital to the world’s economy. However, to forage effectively, they need to be able to learn and recognize the plants.”
Obviously this is handicapped due to continually rising emissions from unsustainable modes of transportation in the world. “The results indicated that NOx gases, particularly nitrogen oxide, may be capable of disrupting the odor recognition process that honeybees rely on for locating floral food resources.” Poppy continued.
The scientists agreed that air pollution could be one of a number of stresses that could be harming the honeybees which, like many pollinating insects, are struggling. Other identifiable causes linked with their decline include the Varrao mite – which sucks bee blood from the bodies of honeybee larvae, pupae, and adult hives, bacteria, fungi, and viruses which can wipe out a hive, and pesticides and insecticides which are sprayed directly on the creatures and can have devastating effect.
Dr. Newman said “Diesel exposure is not the root of the problem in honeybees. However, if you think of a situation where they’re dealing with vial infections, mite infections, another thing that then makes it harder in its environment adds to the list of stresses. It is likely to have detrimental effect on the animals’ health”.
Seeking to counteract this issue, the group has called for the government to put together a ‘bee action plan’ to combat the threats the creatures face. Friends of the Earth Nature Campaigner Paul de Zylva, said: “Bees are highly sophisticated creatures facing many threats including air pollution and this research is yet more evidence they are under attack from all sides.”
It is now a responsibility of the individual consumer to curb personal exhaust emissions and seek to find alternative modes of transport to cut down on petroleum-based exhaust. Riding one’s bike, walking, carpooling, or intending to adopt sustainable forms of transport can all add up and make a world of difference, seeing as the future’s food production heavily relies on the hard work of healthy, functioning honeybees.