Air Pollution and Pollination

Scientists find there are 70% fewer pollinators, due to air pollution

Air pollution significantly reduces pollination by confusing butterflies and bees, lessening their ability to sniff out crops and wildflowers

Insects provide pollination of important food crops and native wildflowers, but researchers sought to understand how air pollution affects different pollinating insect species, of which, some rely on scent above all other senses.

Scientists studying air pollutants from both urban and rural environments found that there are up to 70% fewer pollinators, up to 90% less flower visits, and an overall 31% in pollination reduction in test plants when there were several common ground-level air pollutants present – including diesel exhaust pollutants and ozone.

Common air pollutants are diminishing the insect’s pollination by inhibiting them from sniffing out the crops and wildflowers that depend on them. Pollination supports around 8% of the total value of agricultural food production worldwide and is a huge contributor to food security and the economy.

The study, published in Environmental Pollution, highlights the negative impact of common air pollutants on pollination in the natural environment. The researchers theorise that the pollutants react with and change the scents of flowers, making them harder to find.

Pollution could contribute to the continual decline of pollinating insects, by making it harder for them to locate their food (pollen and nectar), and previous laboratory studies have shown that diesel fumes can alter floral odours.


Dr James Ryalls, a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow at the University of Reading, who conducted the study, added: “The findings are worrying because these pollutants are commonly found in the air many of us breathe every day. We know that these pollutants are bad for our health, and the significant reductions we saw in pollinator numbers and activity shows that there are also clear implications for the natural ecosystems we depend on.”

70% of all crop species depend on pollination

The analysis of data exposed there were 62-70% fewer pollinator visits to the plants located in polluted air.

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Scientists find there are 70% fewer pollinators, due to air pollution (