Nearly every day, we learn of a new terrible side effect of climate change. New research indicates flowers and other plants will soon begin losing their scent molecules due to exposure to ground-level ozone. This is a bummer for flower lovers, obviously, but it’s devastating news for pollinators who rely on those scent molecules to locate pollen-bearing buds. Bees pollinate as much as 30 percent of the food supply on Earth, so this new threat could circle right back to sting the humans who caused the problem in the first place.
The new research, published in the journal New Phytologist, illustrates a grim picture for the future of the planet’s fauna. With greater exposure to ozone, which is considered a pollutant, the delicate scent molecules of flowers and other plants will break down more quickly. Ground-level ozone is projected to increase over the coming decades as climate change worsens, so the effects on plant life will accelerate. Flowers won’t emit as much scent, and it won’t travel as far as it currently does, so pollinators will have a really difficult time finding them.
The study focused on one of Europe’s most common bumblebees, a good indicator of how other pollinators are likely to behave and react in changing conditions. The study’s lead author, Gerard Farré-Armengol of the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry in Barcelona, Spain noted the degradation of volatile plant scent molecules but also the related negative consequences on pollinators. The researchers found that bumblebees – the pollinators that would normally travel the longest distance to visit flowers – lost the necessary scent cues to locate the plants.