Leafcutter bees as plastic recyclers? Not a good idea

Image of hand holding strips of plastic with holes in them.

(Utah State University) Plastic has become ubiquitous in modern life and its accumulation as waste in the environment is sounding warning bells for the health of humans and wildlife. Previously, researchers have noted leafcutter bees were using plastic waste to construct their nests, and they suggested such behavior could be an “ecologically adaptive trait” and a beneficial recycling effort. However, just because bees can use plastic, doesn’t mean they should.

London museum unveils nitrogen-absorbing sculpture for bees

Image of woman with sculpture.

(The Art Newspaper) The sculpture is able to absorb up to 15% of her own weight in nitrogen dioxide molecules. When it rains, the absorbed toxins are washed away as a harmless liquid, enabling the continuous ingestion of pollution from the surrounding air. Nitrogen dioxide can mask the scent of flowers, thus preventing bees from finding their food.

Air pollution renders flower odors unattractive to moths

Image of hawkmoth on flower.

(Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology) Researchers showed that tobacco hawkmoths lost attraction to the scent of their preferred flowers when that scent had been altered by ozone. This oxidizing pollutant thus disturbs the chemical communication between a plant and its pollinator. However, when given the chance, hawkmoths quickly learn that an unpleasantly polluted scent may lead to nutritious nectar.

Blinded by the light: How sensory pollution impacts animal survival

Image of city lights at night.

(Utah State University) A new paper provides a framework for understanding how light and noise pollution affects wildlife. The framework is the product of an effort among worldwide experts in ecology and physiology and reveals the presence of “sensory danger zones,” or areas where sensory pollutants influences animal activity. For example, artificial lights cover the glow of the moon, preventing birds or insects from detecting it. “From a conservation biology point of view, we don’t know how to mitigate the effects of sensory pollution if we don’t know what the pathway of harm is.”

Scientists use honey and wild salmon to trace industrial metals in the environment

Image of honey bee frame.

(EurekAlert/Goldschmidt Conference) Scientists have long known that honey bees pick up small amounts of metal elements when they alight on flowers and leaves. They carry these metals back to the hive where tiny amounts are incorporated into the honey. However, this is the first time researchers have been able to establish clearly the sources of the metals carried by the bees and their products, making them reliable biomarkers for environmental pollution.