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Disel pollution disrupts bees' flower hunt

Exposure to pollution from diesel exhaust fumes can disrupt honeybees' ability to recognize the smells of flowers.

A honeybee crawls inside the cornucopia-shaped flower of jewelweed at the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary in Springfield, Ill. Scientists have reported that diesel pollution disrupts the honeybee's ability to forage for flowers.

Chris Young/The State Journal-Register/AP

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Exposure to pollution from diesel exhaust fumes can disrupt honeybees' ability to recognise the smells of flowers and could in future affect pollination and global food security, researchers said on Thursday.

In a study published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, scientists from Britain's University of Southampton found that the fumes change the profile of the floral odours that attract bees to forage from one flower to the next.

"This could have serious detrimental effects on the number of honeybee colonies and pollination activity," said Tracey Newman, a neuroscientist who worked on the study.

Bees are important pollinators of flowering plants, including many fruit and vegetable crops.

A 2011 U.N. report estimated that bees and other pollinators such as butterflies, beetles or birds do work worth 153 billion euros ($203 bln) a year to the human economy.

Bee populations have been declining steadily in recent decades but there is scientific disagreement over what might be causing it. Much attention has been focused on whether a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids may be the culprit.

A report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in January said three widely-used neonicotinoids, made mainly by Switzerland's Syngenta and Germany's Bayer, posed an acute risk to honeybees.


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