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‘Its body looked like a warzone.’ Air pollution could kill off critical honey bees in India


Bees feel the sting of air pollution more acutely than we do. A 3-year study in India finds that even mildly dirty air could kill 80% of giant Asian honey bees, a key pollinator in South Asia. Without such bees and other insects, domestic production of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legumes could be at risk, the team says.

“This is an important and timely study,” says Olli Loukola, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Oulu who was not involved with the work. The findings, he says, are the first to document the impact of air pollution on insects, and they emphasize just how far-ranging the effects of human-caused pollution can be. “I think we have to be more worried.”

Air pollution claimed more than 1 million Indian lives in 2015, and Indian cities regularly dominate global “worst polluted” lists. But India isn’t just home to humans. The giant Asian honey bee (Apis dorsata) is a major pollinator in many Indian landscapes, including cities, where their large nests are sometimes spotted hanging off tall buildings. Indeed, the insects are thought to be critical for India’s huge fruit and vegetable production; the country produced more than $3 billion of fresh fruit in 2016, and it’s the world’s second largest producer of vegetables.

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