New Research Suggests Diesel Fumes Are Bad For Bees

Scientists from the University of Southampton have gathered evidence to suggest that bees are being affected by a chemical in diesel fumes that impairs their ability to sniff out sources of pollen and nectar.

Bees learn to decipher the chemical messages they get from flowers to be able to home in on the blooms that they know will give the best yield of nectar says Dr Tracey Newman, a Southampton Neuroscientist.

Tests in the laboratory have shown that two of the odour chemicals in oilseed rape are “lost” when they come into contact with a constituent of diesel exhaust known as NOx or mono-nitrogen oxide.

The team looked at the way in which bees react to the scent of oilseed rape before and after the smell chemicals were affected by NOx and noticed a distinctly reduced response to the “damaged” scent molecules.

Pollution Could Be Detrimental To Bee Behaviour

Lead researcher, Dr Guy Poppy surmised that the airborne pollution appeared to be interfering with “the complex relationship” that has evolved between plants and bees.  Dr Newman added that the study highlighted the need to reduce pollution and improve air quality in order to protect pollinating insects as well as improve human health.

I’m sure that more research is needed into this subject, certainly by carrying out experiments in real situations rather than in the laboratory but the idea that pesticides are not wholly responsible for some of the difficulties bees have experienced in recent years is an interesting concept.  But there are still lots of questions to answer.

For example:

  • Do petrol fumes or even waste gasses from heating oil have the same effect as diesel fumes? 
  • Are the effects reduced when flowering plants are grown in huge swathes rather than as individuals? 
  • Are the scent molecules from some plant species more affected than others?
  • Does it make a difference if there is a physical barrier between the source of pollution (the road) and the flowers? (eg a hedge)

Protecting Bees From Pollution

The value to UK food production of “pollination services” is estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds. So until we find out more about how bee health is affected by human activities – and learn how to counteract the damage, perhaps we should all be doing whatever we can to reduce pollution using natural lawnsgreen roofs, native hedges and green plants to filter pollutants from the air. By using car-sharing schemes and buying locally grown food we can help reduce road usage and keep the air clean for the creatures who do so much for us.

Managing the environment with sustainable landscaping