News Release

Air pollution and honey bee health

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Honey bees collected at highly polluted sites in India show reduced survival rate and altered behavior, physiology, and molecular and cellular characteristics, a study finds. Air pollution is associated with a variety of health conditions in humans, but the effects on wild plants and animals are unclear. To identify factors that affect the health of bees, which play a critical role in global crop productivity and food security but have experienced dramatic declines worldwide, Geetha Thimmegowda, Shannon Olsson, and colleagues sampled 1,820 Giant Asian honey bees over a three-year period across four sites in the city of Bangalore in India, a country with high levels of air pollution that is also a major producer of fruits and vegetables. Bees collected at sites with comparatively higher levels of air pollution showed lower survival rates as well as alterations in flower visitation, heart rate, and blood cell counts. Moreover, analysis of bees' antennae and heart tissue showed that air pollution is associated with an increase in the expression of genes involved in stress, lipid metabolism, and immunity. Together, the findings suggest that air pollution may harm both insect health and ecosystem services. According to the authors, further studies are needed to accurately assess the impact of air pollution on the natural world and to shape international air quality guidelines.

Article #20-09074: "A field-based quantitative analysis of sublethal effects of air pollution on pollinators," by Geetha Thimmegowda et al.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Shannon Olsson, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, INDIA; e-mail:; Geetha Thimmegowda, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, INDIA; e-mail:


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