Bees Can't Find Flowers Thanks to Diesel Exhaust

Diesel exhaust is pretty nasty stuff. Pass an overloaded 18-wheeler clouding up the highway, and that acrid plume of hydrocarbons will overpower even your best little tree air freshener. As new research lays out, that exhaust doesn't just smell bad, it messes with the scent of flowers. And that's big trouble for our already struggling bee friends.

In a Nature paper published today, researchers from The University of Southampton found that components of diesel exhaust completely change the odor makeup of the (unfortunately named) rapeseed flower. The team measured eight components that make up the flower's perfume before and after exposure to diesel exhaust. Six of the compounds showed significantly reduced levels after fumigation, while two disappeared entirely. The change in scent is so drastic, bees offered a clean sample (identical to the after-smoke odor, but without the diesel exhaust) didn't even recognize it.

Pretty smelling flowers are a life necessity for bees — and for us humans, who get over $200 billion in economic value out of insect pollination every year. Maybe we can train them to fight back by swarming those idiots who purposely modify their diesel vehicles for maximum smoke output and cruise around rolling coal. That, my friends, would be the sweet smell of justice. [Nature via PhysOrg]

Photo by Shutterstock/Paul Marcus