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Vocus Study Elucidates the Impact of Sensory Pollutants on Pollination

sensory pollutants

Olfaction in the Anthropocene: NO3 Negatively Affects Floral Scent and Nocturnal Pollination

Chan et al.
Science, 2024
DOI: 10.1126/science.adi0858 

This high-profile scientific work published in the journal Science employed several TOFWERK Vocus instruments to study how pollution influences floral scent perception by pollinators.

Human activities generate airborne pollution which impacts animal olfactory systems. Pollinators recognize floral scent and fly long distances to reach the flowers. Researchers from the University of Washington, Department of Biology and Atmospheric Sciences studied floral scent degradation by key atmospheric pollutants such as ozone (O3) and nitrate radicals (NO3) and the consequent effect on pollination.

The authors used a Vocus PTR-TOF and a Vocus CI-TOF with the Aim reactor producing benzene cations to measure the concentrations of floral volatiles in real time. Benzene cations allow measuring floral scent with no ion fragmentation. Specifically, eucalyptol and monoterpenes were monitored without interference, while in standard PTR-MS eucalyptol would interfere with monoterpenes due to fragmentation.

Moreover, the authors set the Vocus CI-TOF with the Aim reactor to produce iodide anions to examine the atmospheric degradation of floral volatiles by NO3 and O3. Iodide anions ionize highly oxygenated compounds produced by the degradation of the floral scent thus allowing to measure compounds which are typically not detected with standard PTR-MS techniques.

The TOFWERK systems were ideal for investigating the degradation of the floral volatile organic compounds under realistic atmospheric conditions and in real time. Employing a nocturnal flower-moth interaction as a model system, it was observed that environmentally significant levels of NO3 result in the cessation of moth visitation to flowers. Moreover, the interaction between NO3 and a specific group of monoterpenes was identified as the only factor diminishing the allure of the scent.

The analysis conducted by the authors through global atmospheric models focusing on the oxidation of floral scents suggests that pollinators in specific urban regions might experience limitations in their capacity to detect and locate flowers. These findings underscore the influence of human-induced sensory pollutants on the olfactory capabilities of animals and suggest that these pollutants could play a significant role in regulating pollination on a global scale.

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