Plants communicate through organic volatile compounds that signal to pollinators that a flower awaits them. But ozone pollution is coming between plant and pollinator, according to a new study.

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The air has become so polluted that insects can’t always detect the scents and visual cues they need to find flowers. And pollution happens fast, according to the review in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Almost as soon as the ozone comes in contact with plants, leaves are discolored and shapes of flowers are altered.

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“There is much noise about the direct effects of agrochemicals on pollinators, a subject of profound societal attention,” said Professor Evgenios Agathokleous of Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology in China, the study’s lead author, as reported by Newsweek. “But it now emerges that ozone is a silent threat to pollinators and thus pollination. These impacts of ozone have long been missed.”

About seven and a half miles above sea level, ozone naturally forms, protecting us from the sun’s harmful rays. But we don’t want it in the lower part of the atmosphere. That’s where it damages the planet. And when ozone inhibits pollination, it could impact other types of flora and fauna as well.

“Within plant tissues, ozone pollution could decrease the number of nutrients that are essential to insects, increase the abundance of chemicals that are harmful to insects ingesting them and degrade the overall quality of plant tissues,” said Agathokleous.

Forty percent of the world’s insect species are dramatically declining, according to one recent study. They’re disappearing about eight times faster than birds, mammals and reptiles. But even if you can’t get worked up about bugs, pollution’s effect on humans is undeniable. Air pollution leads to lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and chronic respiratory diseases to the tune of about 4.2 million deaths per year, according to the World Health Organization.

Via Newsweek

Lead image via Pexels