This showed that the bumblebees were capable of detect and distinguish small and dynamic electric field changes attributable to chemicals.
Dr. Ellard Hunting said: “We all know chemicals are toxic, but little is thought about how they affect the direct interaction between plants and pollinators.
“Flowers have a series of suggestions to draw bees by promoting feeding and pollination. For instance, bees use signals corresponding to the scent and color of flowers, but additionally they use electric fields to discover plants.
“So the large problem is that agrochemical application can distort flower signals and modify the behavior of pollinators corresponding to bees.”
Furthermore, various other airborne particles corresponding to nanoparticles, exhaust gases, nanoplastics and viral particles can have an identical effect, affecting a wide range of organisms that use electric fields which can be practically all over the place within the environment.
Co-author Sam England of Bristol explained: “What makes this study essential is that it’s the first known example of anthropogenic ‘noise’ disrupting an Earth animal’s electrical sense.
“It’s just like the noise of a motor boat making it difficult for fish to detect predators, or artificial light at night that confuses moths: fertilizers are a source of noise for bees attempting to detect the flowers’ electrical signals.
“This broadens our understanding of the multi-faceted ways wherein human activity negatively affects the natural world, which may seem quite depressing, but hopefully this can allow us to introduce or invent solutions to forestall the hostile effects these chemicals can have on bees.”
Dr Ellard Hunting added: “The indisputable fact that fertilizers affect pollinator behavior by interfering with the best way the body perceives its physical environment offers a latest perspective on how man-made chemicals disturb the environment.”
The project was funded by the European Research Council and the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.