Acute exposure to urban air pollution impairs olfactory learning and memory in honeybees

Ryan J. Leonard, Thomas J. Pettit, Peter Irga, Clare McArthur, Dieter F. Hochuli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


While the ecological effects of pesticides have been well studied in honeybees, it is unclear to what extent other anthropogenic contaminants such as air pollution may also negatively affect bee cognition and behaviour. To answer this question, we assessed the impacts of acute exposure to four ecologically relevant concentrations of a common urban air pollutant—diesel generated air pollution on honeybee odour learning and memory using a conditioned proboscis extension response assay. The proportion of bees that successfully learnt odours following direct air pollution exposure was significantly lower in bees exposed to low, medium and high air pollutant concentrations, than in bees exposed to current ambient levels. Furthermore, short- and long-term odour memory was significantly impaired in bees exposed to low medium and high air pollutant concentrations than in bees exposed to current ambient levels. These results demonstrate a clear and direct cognitive cost of air pollution. Given learning and memory play significant roles in foraging, we suggest air pollution will have increasing negative impacts on the ecosystem services bees provide and may add to the current threats such as pesticides, mites and disease affecting colony fitness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1056-1062
Number of pages7
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Air pollution
  • Behaviour
  • Honeybee
  • Pollinator
  • Proboscis extension reflex response

Cite this