(NaturalNews) Air pollution is making it harder for bees and other pollinating insects to find food, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia.
Pollutants such as ozone (smog) and nitrate radicals, formed mostly as a consequence of car exhaust, are binding with the volatile scent molecules given off by flowers, the scientists found. This chemically alters the molecules so that they no longer carry a sweet scent, and do not attract pollinating insects to plants.
"Scent molecules produced by flowers in a less polluted environment could travel for roughly 1,000 to 1,200 meters," said lead researcher Jose Fuentes. "But today they may travel only 200 to 300 meters. This makes it increasingly difficult for bees and other insects to locate the flowers."
Pollinating insects like bees feed on the nectar from flowering plants. Thus air pollution is having a direct impact on these insects by making it harder for them to find food. Since a plant that is not pollinated cannot reproduce, pollution also leads to an overall reduction in the number of these plants, the researchers said, so that there is even less food available for the insects.
Populations of bees and other pollinating insects have drastically declined in many parts of the world - most dramatically in the United States, where up to 25 percent of honeybee colonies have been lost to colony collapse disorder.
Colony collapse disorder describes the still-unexplained desertion of a hive by its bees.
The researchers suggested that a difficulty finding food due to air pollution may be partially responsible for the decline in bee populations. Because insects rely heavily on scents for a variety of functions, the scientists expressed concerns that pollution might also be hampering mate attraction and defense against predators.
Honeybees are the primary pollinators for 80 percent of the world's food crops.