Air Pollution Foils Pollinators | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 16 | p. 43 | Concentrates
Issue Date: April 21, 2008

Air Pollution Foils Pollinators

Department: Science & Technology

Floral fragrances waft far and wide in clean air, but polluted air is another story. Emissions from sources such as cars and power plants are disrupting the perfumed chemical trails that direct pollinators to flowers. This sort of environmental interference might contribute to a recently observed reduction in pollinating insects such as bees, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Virginia (Atmos. Environ. 2008, 42, 2336). Environmental sciences professor Jose D. Fuentes and graduate students Quinn S. McFrederick and James C. Kathilankal created a model to assess what happens in the wind when linalool, β-myrcene, and β-ocimene—volatile hydrocarbon compounds that are common in flower scents—meet atmospheric pollutants such as ozone and hydroxyl and nitrate radicals. The researchers based the model on the snapdragon, a flower whose aroma cocktail includes all three compounds, and found that the scents degraded quickly with distance from the source. Prior to the 1880s, insects could detect scents up to a few kilometers away. But under today's more polluted conditions, the researchers find, insects can't detect scents farther than 200 meters away. That could become a big problem for the survival of pollinators and isolated flower patches, the scientists warn.

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