Pollination in the Anthropocene: a Moth Can Learn Ozone-Altered Floral Blends

Brynn Cook, Alexander Haverkamp, Bill S. Hansson, T. Roulston, Manuel Lerdau, Markus Knaden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Insect pollination is essential to many unmanaged and agricultural systems and as such is a key element in food production. However, floral scents that pollinating insects rely on to locate host plants may be altered by atmospheric oxidants, such as ozone, potentially making these cues less attractive or unrecognizable to foraging insects and decreasing pollinator efficacy. We demonstrate that levels of tropospheric ozone commonly found in many rural areas are sufficient to disrupt the innate attraction of the tobacco hawkmoth Manduca sexta to the odor of one of its preferred flowers, Nicotiana alata. However, we further find that visual navigation together with associative learning can offset this disruption. Foraging moths that initially find an ozone-altered floral scent unattractive can target an artificial flower using visual cues and associate the ozone-altered floral blend with a nectar reward. The ability to learn ozone-altered floral odors may enable pollinators to maintain communication with their co-evolutionary partners and reduce the negative impacts that anthropogenically elevated oxidants may have on plant-pollinator systems.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Sep 2020


  • Anthropocene
  • Insect olfaction
  • Manduca sexta
  • Pollination
  • Pollution

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