Stop and Smell the Flowers… While You Still Can?

Ever wondered how bees find their pollinating flowers from so far away? How do they know where to go?

Flowers produce a mixture of scents that attract pollinators, allowing for the plant-insect interaction. This scent has the ability to travel long distances, and sensed by pollinators from over 900 metres away! However, this scent is quite volatile/unstable, and therefore can easily react with compounds such as the pollutants in the air (i.e. ozone, nitrate/hydroxyl radicals). Such reactions are unfavourable due to the fact that they cause the degradation of the scent, making it more difficult for pollinators to find the flowering plants.

The Fuentes et al. study looked at the how this chemical reaction between the scent and air pollutants would affect the pollinators ability to find the plant/in what capacity. This was done using a computer simulation that tracked bee foraging movements and the concentrations of the scent in the areas, keeping in mind the wind speeds and the amounts of air pollution.


It was observed that the as the amount of air pollution increases, the lifetime of this needed scent decreases. This chemical change hindered the bees’ ability to detect the flowers in a certain timeframe. It increased their foraging time and decreased the amount of food collected.

Not only does this finding indicate a contributing factor to bee decline, but also suggests a decline in crop yield.


This, amongst other reasons, has caused substantial declines in honeybee populations across the world, declining in 44% only in the last year (2015-2016).


Jose D. Fuentes, Marcelo Chamecki, T’ai Roulston, Bicheng Chen, Kenneth R. Pratt. Air pollutants degrade floral scents and increase insect foraging times. Atmospheric Environment, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.07.002

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