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Scientists use Bees to Monitor Air Quality

July 13, 2015
Environmental Protection

A study by researchers at the Natural History Museum, has shown that bees could be used in future to determine the major sources of air pollution. The scientists studied bees in an industrial area of Sardinia, and found that the head, wings and legs of the insects were coated with particulate matter from nearby lead and zinc mines.

By measuring the accumulation of particulates over the six week adult lifespan of the bees, the study was able to track emission sources several kilometers away from the bee hives. The insects are able to cover distances of up to 2.5km a day, giving them the ability to provide a more accurate sample of particulate emissions in the area.

Mineralogist Dr Christian Mavris, one of the lead authors of the study, told the Daily Telegraph “using our novel method, bees dynamically sample airborne particulate matter. This allowed us to discern between different emission sources. Stationary observation stations allow for more accurate estimates of particle quantities, but they cannot match our new method’s ability to determine emission sources. We often have an assumption that air in the countryside is very good but that is probably not a precise estimate”.  The data produced by the study, which has been published in the journal PLos One, suggests that exposure to industrial pollutants may be far higher than originally thought.

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