Air pollution modifies floral scent trails

Quinn S. McFrederick, James C. Kathilankal, Jose D. Fuentes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Floral hydrocarbons provide essential signals to attract pollinators. As soon as they are emitted to the atmosphere, however, hydrocarbons are destroyed by chemical reactions involving pollutants such as ozone. It is therefore likely that increased air pollution interferes with pollinator attracting hydrocarbon signals. To test this hypothesis, a Lagrangian diffusion model was used to determine the position of air parcels away from hydrocarbon sources and to estimate the rate of chemical destruction of hydrocarbons as air parcels moved across the landscape. The hydrocarbon compounds linalool, β-myrcene, and β-ocimene were chosen because they are known to be common scents released from flowers. The suppressed ambient abundances of volatile organic compounds were determined in response to increased regional levels of ozone, hydroxyl, and nitrate radicals. The results indicate that the documented increases in air pollution concentrations, from pre-industrial to present times, can lead to reductions in volatile compound concentrations insects detect as they pollinate flowers. For highly reactive volatiles the maximum downwind distance from the source at which pollinators can detect the scents may have changed from kilometers during pre-industrial times to <200 m during the more polluted conditions of present times. The increased destruction of floral signals in polluted air masses may have important implications for both pollinators and signaling plants. When patches of flowers are further apart than the visual range of pollinators, such as in fragmented landscapes, the loss of scent signals may mean that pollinators spend more time searching for patches and less time foraging. This decrease in pollinator foraging efficiency will simultaneously decrease the pollinator's reproductive output and the amount of pollen flow in flowering plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2336-2348
Number of pages13
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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