Questions for ‘Air pollution can make it harder for pollinators to find flowers’

Against a night-black background, a hawkmoth hovers over a paper filter cone that is designed to mimic a night-blooming flower. The hawkmoth's long proboscis is reaching into the center of the cone.

Here, a moth visits a fake flower emitting the scent of a flower it pollinates. Nighttime air pollutants may break down a bloom’s alluring fragrance, making it harder for pollinators to find it.

Charles Hedgcock/University of Washington, Seattle

To accompany ‘Air pollution can make it harder for pollinators to find flowers


Before Reading:

  1. List two senses a butterfly might use to find a flower. For each, describe something that could interfere with the butterfly’s ability to use this sense fully. To what extent might human activity interfere with a butterfly’s flower-finding senses? Briefly explain your answer.
  2. Describe the relationship between flowering plants and butterflies. What benefit do butterflies provide to flowering plants? Imagine if insects could no longer provide this benefit to plants. What impact might this loss have on flowering plants? How might this change, in turn, affect people?

During Reading:

  1. What is the scientific name of the flower used in this study?
  2. If insects cannot find flowers, what natural process would that problem disrupt?
  3. Why does ozone become more problematic for certain pollinators at night than in the day?
  4. Jeff Riffell and his team designed a wind-tunnel experiment to simulate an outdoor field of primroses. What scientific question were they trying to answer using this setup? 
  5. Riffell and his team investigated the hawkmoth’s response to more than 20 molecules making up the primrose’s scent. How many of these molecules showed an “especially strong response”? 
  6. What impact does a nitrate radical have on a monoterpene? Why does this problem concern Riffell?

After Reading:

  1. List three scent-related industries. Consider how one or more of these industries might benefit from research investigating how radicals can change scent molecules.
  2. Imagine you are a scientist seeking funding for the research mentioned in the question above. Pick one scent-related industry and briefly describe what you might say to persuade organizations to fund your study. Use findings from this story to support your argument.
  3. This story discusses how seemingly unrelated factors can unexpectedly worsen the plant-pollination problem. How might Earth’s warming climate worsen this problem? Identify one other such factor described in this story. Based on these factors, what types of places would you predict to be most heavily impacted? Explain your answer.