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Air pollution hinders pollination by masking floral scents

This video is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

Air pollution disrupts plant reproduction by making it harder for pollinators to find flowers. In a lab setting, tobacco hawkmoths were 50% less successful in locating flowers under polluted conditions, while white-lined sphinx moths couldn't find them at all. Field experiments showed a similar effect, with overall moth accuracy declining by 70% due to air pollution.

The culprit: Nitrogen Oxides (NO3)

The main culprit behind this phenomenon is a class of chemicals called nitrates (NO3). These are formed during the combustion of gas, coal, and other fuels in car engines, power plants, and industrial facilities. These fumes degrade the scent cues released by wildflowers, making them undetectable by smell.

The broader consequences of pollinator decline

This disruption in pollination has significant consequences. Three-quarters of crops rely on insects for pollination, and approximately 40% of global insect pollinators are already facing endangerment due to factors like pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.

A study estimates that the decline in pollinators contributes to roughly 500,000 premature deaths per year due to reduced yields of healthy foods.

Tackling air pollution

The Global Risks Report 2024 listed air pollution as one of the top ten global threats. The Alliance for Clean Air, a partnership between the World Economic Forum and the Clean Air Fund, aims to address this challenge by bringing together business leaders to tackle air pollution and champion the benefits of clean air.

For more information on this topic, read here.

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