Is Travel Pollution Effecting Bee Population?

Is Travel Pollution Effecting Bee Population?
Photo Attribution: 
Wendy Longo photography / photo on flickr

It’s no secret now that the world’s bee population is in serious decline but what many people don’t realize is that this is having adverse effects on our agriculture of which is vital to us. So much of our food supply depends on successful pollination from bees resulting in perhaps unseen dramatics effects on our food supplies. In fact over three-quarters of the world’s crops rely on successful pollination by the bees making it a critical process in the survival of mankind.

Many studies have shown that this is fact and not theory and with that has come change.
The European Union has banned various pesticides to stop this dramatic fall in bee population. However, while pesticides do attribute to a great proportion of the blame there is something else at fault here – travel pollution. We as a species depend so highly upon travel

According to a recent study carried out by Tracy Newman of the University of Southampton the answer is yes. Tests have shown that the gases emitted from means of travel can and do alter vital floral scents which bees use to navigate themselves to plants essential the pollination process. 

The study was carried out by mixing eight chemicals found in the odor of a crop that relies upon bee pollination (Oil seed rape) with air containing diesel fumes. Trained honeybees that were able to distinguish air pollutants from oil see rape were now unable to do so. In fact the study concluded that bees were able to recognize the natural floral scents 98-99% of the time but when diesel fumes were introduced they were only able to recognize the scene 30% of the time – a dramatic decrease. 
While the highly analytical tests were only carried out with diesel it suggests that exhaust pollution both diesel and petrol severely alters the components of a synthetic floral odor blend, which in turn affects the honeybee’s highly sensitive recognition of odor. This is resulting in a declining bee population because bees have to forage for longer and travel further away from their colony.

This is a serious concern for all of us and just like banning pesticides we must take active steps towards combating the travel problem – banning being too extreme. Although this study carried out by Dr. Newman and her colleagues is the first of its kind, it will hopefully be the first of many that begin to have serious impact on the seriousness of this subject. 

Individually we can all take steps to reducing the impact we have on this ubiquitous process but bigger action needs to be taken by travel companies and providers. Boeing is one such example – their new flagship Dreamliner aircraft is 20% more fuel efficient that it’s previous model dramatically reducing air pollution. Over 3 million people fly daily so if all companies followed suit we would begin to make a change. So next time you jump aboard an Air Transat give some thought to the bees down below.


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