A new study has found that certain pollutants such as diesel fumes may be damaging the scents of flowers, making their fragrance less potent and harder to detect from further away.
This effect could also be making it difficult for bees to detect where flowers are located and could be further hurting their population numbers.
The research was conducted by researchers from the University of Reading and led by Robbie Girling.
Girling has been examining the effects of diesel fumes on flower scents for quite some time, and an earlier study confirmed that five single compounds in floral odors could be altered by pollution.
If you have noticed that flowers don’t smell quite like they used to in the spring, it may well be because pollution like nitrogen oxide from diesel cars is disrupting the chemical makeup of the flowers’ unique scents.
Lavenders, daffodils, roses, snapdragons, and lilies are all reportedly affected by pollution.
In an article for the Daily Scientists, Marta Zaraska describes how flowers “talk” to one another with their scents.
“If you stroll through a forest and take a deep breath, you can smell the ‘words’ – complex, volatile chemicals such as beta-pinene, which smells fresh and piney,” writes Zaraska. “Plants produce thousands of these, combining them to create ‘sentences’.”
The scents and sentences help bees find where they can collect pollen and feed on nectar.
An increase in diesel emissions is interrupting this natural language process in plants and the scents, in turn, grow weaker.
Girling suggests that the pollution is making it difficult for bees to find flowers when pollution levels are at their peak.
“I have spoken to amateur beekeepers in the past who insist during rush hour they cannot smell the flowers in their garden,” said Girling.
The continuing research by Girling and his colleagues could explain part of the reason why bee colonies may be facing such steep declines. The results also illustrate another reason to reduce urban pollution and emissions.