Ozone air pollution prevents insects from recognizing pheromones

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(ORDO NEWS) — German ecologists have found that even small amounts of ozone in the air prevent insects from recognizing pheromones, which disrupts their breeding program and reduces their fertility.

“We were amazed that even small concentrations of ozone in the air had a very strong effect on the behavior of fruit flies.

This pollution not only disrupted the relationship between females and males, but also forced the males to care for each other.

This is probably due to the fact that that they could not distinguish other males from females due to the destruction of pheromones under the influence of ozone,” said Markus Knaden, head of the scientific group at MPICE, quoted by the press service of the institute.

Ozone is a gas composed of three oxygen atoms. Its molecules in the Earth‘s stratosphere protect us from the ultraviolet radiation of the Sun, but when it enters the lower atmosphere, it becomes a powerful greenhouse gas, as well as a “generator” of various toxic aerosols containing compounds of sulfuric and nitric acids.

As Knaden and his colleagues note, environmentalists have long been thinking about how the appearance of ozone in the lower atmosphere can affect the vital activity of pollinating insects, as well as other invertebrate living creatures.

Scientists are concerned that ozone molecules are capable of oxidizing volatile substances, which are produced by plant flowers to attract the attention of insects.

Ozone pollution and insects

German ecologists have noticed that many insect pheromones are just as vulnerable to ozone as the volatile components of flower fragrances.

With this idea in mind, the researchers looked at how ozone air pollution would affect the behavior and interactions of female and male fruit flies.

Experiments conducted by scientists showed that even small amounts of ozone in the air dramatically accelerated the degradation of pheromone molecules produced by insects.

This led to drastic changes in the behavior of Drosophila, which especially concerned the operation of their breeding program.

Even at ultra-low ozone concentrations of 100 parts per billion (0.00001%), male flies lost the ability to distinguish females from competitors and began courting random individuals of both sexes.

Faced with similar anomalies in the behavior of laboratory fruit flies of the species Drosophila melanogaster, the scientists followed the effects of ozone on nine other species of flies.

The males of only one of them, Drosophila suzukii, did not lose the ability to distinguish between representatives of different sexes, while the breeding program in the remaining eight species of flies was significantly disrupted.

Similarly, the researchers believe that ozone will act on the sex pheromones of most other insect species.

This points to the need to strengthen the fight against ozone air pollution in large cities and small towns to protect pollinators and other important insects from declining in numbers, Knaden and colleagues say.


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