A novel Free-Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment (FADOE) research platform

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Agriculture Policy and Dev

Abstract

Globally, there is increasing concern about the potential risks of air pollution to human health and the environment. Whilst many people consider air pollution predominantly an urban issue, rural areas are also regularly exposed to a range of air pollutants. Growing evidence suggests that common air pollutants such as ozone and nitrogen oxides (NOx) may indirectly impair the fitness of plants and insects, by reacting with and chemically altering the odour compounds that plants and insects use for communication. Whilst the dominant sense used by humans is vision, many insects and plants use odours to perceive and interact with their environment. These odours can be a vital part of many everyday tasks that are critical to their survival. Insects commonly use odours to locate food (e.g. a flower's scent) or find a mate (i.e. pheromones), and plants also detect and respond to odours from other nearby plants (e.g. they can increase production of defence chemicals in their leaves if they detect odours released from neighbouring plants being fed upon by insects). Many insects provide vital ecosystem services which benefit society, e.g. the pollination of food crops, and therefore disruption of the odour cues that insects use to carry out such tasks could result in significant negative consequences.

Increasing numbers of studies are demonstrating how air pollutants can chemically alter different odour cues used by plants and insects, e.g. our previous research showed that diesel exhaust reacts with and alters the unique blend of chemicals that make up a flower's scent, making it no longer recognizable to honey bees. However, most of the evidence for these effects is from laboratory studies and simulation models, the outcomes of which do not always translate accurately to effects in nature. Field-based experiments are rare because in open air conditions it is practically very challenging to elevate pollutants in a controlled manner. Recently, we designed a novel temporary prototype facility which successfully allowed us to investigate how air pollution can impact upon important ecological processes in the field. Our initial unpublished results indicate that these impacts may be significantly greater than predicted by laboratory studies and simulation models. Moderate increases in NOx and ozone levels resulted in a 90% reduction in flower visitation by pollinators, indicating an unexpectedly severe negative impact upon insect-provided pollination.

This result substantiates the urgent need for a dedicated permanent field-based research platform to investigate: 1) which ecological process and interactions are affected and what are the potential consequences; 2) what are the mechanisms of such changes; 3) are there interventions that can be put in place to mitigate these changes?

Therefore, this project will fund the construction of a globally unique state-of-the-art bespoke research facility at the University of Reading's Sonning Farm to provide a research platform for academics across the globe to conduct cutting edge research in this scientific field. This new, Free-Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment research platform, will consist of a series of 12 independently controllable 8-meter diameter rings. Within each ring it will be possible to accurately elevate and maintain ozone and diesel exhaust, both separately and in combination, to ecologically realistic values. Researchers will be able to alter the plant/insect communities within these rings to permit them to study the ecological impacts of these air pollutants on a range of odour-mediated interactions and, using advanced field-based chemical techniques, study the chemical mechanisms behind any changes. The facility will provide researchers with the tools to address key questions in the field and make a step change in our knowledge of how air pollution impacts upon biodiversity and the key insect-mediated ecosystem services upon which we rely for sustainable food production.

Planned Impact

The FADOE platform will enable research that will provide a significant contribution in shaping national and international policy, in relation to both the wider environmental and health impacts of air pollution and to declines in insect biodiversity, particularly of pollinator populations. Defra's National Pollinator Strategy and Implementation Plan are key policy implements, but they do not incorporate the effects of air pollution interrupting odour communication because of insufficient evidence for field scale effects. The platform will provide such evidence and thus have a major influence on future policy, for example by contributing actionable outcomes to Defra to influence the design of the new Environmental Land Management (ELMs) schemes to benefit pollinator communities and insect biodiversity. Impact will be tracked by monitoring citations of the platform's research outputs in political debate and strategy documents and measured by whether these outputs influence ELMs design.

The FADOE platform will provide new knowledge about the precise environmental and economic costs of air pollution to key public goods, for example those insect-mediated ecosystem services that are important for sustainable food production, such as pollination and pest regulation. This research could provide a significant addition to the growing body of evidence demonstrating negative environmental and health outcomes associated with common urban and rural air pollutants. Through influencing policy and creating a strengthened argument for more rapid reductions in the emissions of these common pollutants and through the design and recommendation of mitigation measures, this platform will, in the long term, contribute to alleviating air pollution related pressures on our vital ecosystem services.

The research outputs from the FADOE platform have the potential to directly benefit multiple key stakeholder groups:

1. Non-Governmental Organisations; particularly wildlife and conservation organisations. Insects are a critical component of a healthy ecosystem and vital for the maintenance of biodiversity. This platform will provide information on how air pollution impacts upon insect ecology. This research will be used to provide actionable insights for wildlife and conservation organisations in planning and developing conservation strategies, impacting upon the management of wildlife reserves.

2. Practitioners; both (i) beekeeper groups, and (ii) growers/advisors. This platform will enable informed estimates to be developed on the effects of odour signal degradation on the ability of insects to provide pollination services and therefore the potential scale of this problem for practitioners. The outcomes of the research will be used to design and provide advisories for beekeepers on how best to manage pollinators to reduce impacts of air pollution, with respect to siting of hives. It will benefit growers/advisors, by providing information on how to enhance pollination services by taking into account the potential impacts of air pollution.

3. UK food consumers. The ecosystem services that pollinators and other insect groups provide are a vital component of the sustainable production of many nutritious crops (see point 2 above). The benefits derived by practitioners have the potential to be passed on to UK consumers in the form of lower prices and improved nutritional quality.

4. NHS/healthcare providers. Recent emissions scandals and air pollution breaches have placed air quality issues to the forefront of public awareness. The research coming from the FADOE platform will improve the current state of knowledge regarding air pollution and impact on air pollution legislation. This has the potential to contribute to reductions in exposure of members of the general public to common air pollutants, such as NOx, and therefore to improve healthcare outcomes.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Many insects and plants use odours to perceive and interact with their environment. These odours can be a vital part of many everyday tasks that are critical to their survival. Insects are key providers of a variety of vital ecosystem services which benefit society, e.g. the pollination of food crops, and therefore disruption of the odour cues that insects use to carry out such tasks could result in significant negative consequences. Increasing numbers of studies are demonstrating how air pollutants can chemically alter different odour cues used by plants and insects. However, the majority of evidence to date has been based upon smaller scale laboratory studies and therefore the wider ecological impacts of such disruption are not well understood.

Therefore, the aim of this project was to construct a globally unique field-based Free Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment (FADOE) research platform to enable a radical advancement in our knowledge of the real-world impacts of these two key air pollutants on those volatile chemical mediated interactions that are a vital component of how most species of plants and insects communicate and interact with their environment. The construction of the platform was successfully completed at the University of Reading's Sonning Farm in 2020. The platform consists of a series of 12 independently controllable 8-meter diameter rings. Within each ring it is possible to accurately elevate and maintain ozone and diesel exhaust, both separately and in combination, to ecologically realistic values. The facility provides researchers with the tools to address key questions in the field and make a step change in our knowledge of how air pollution impacts upon biodiversity and the key insect-mediated ecosystem services upon which we rely for sustainable food production.
Exploitation Route The FADOE platform will enable research that will provide a significant contribution in shaping national and international policy, in relation to both the wider environmental and health impacts of air pollution and to declines in insect biodiversity, particularly of pollinator populations. Defra's National Pollinator Strategy and Implementation Plan are key policy implements, but they do not incorporate the effects of air pollution interrupting odour communication because of insufficient evidence for field scale effects. The platform will provide such evidence and thus have a major influence on future policy, for example by contributing actionable outcomes to Defra to influence the design of the new Environmental Land Management (ELMs) schemes to benefit pollinator communities and insect biodiversity. Impact will be tracked by monitoring citations of the platform's research outputs in political debate and strategy documents and measured by whether these outputs influence ELMs design.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Deciphering how common air pollutants impact on pest regulation services
Amount £32,612 (GBP)
Organisation University of Reading 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 07/2021
 
Description NERC Discipline Hopping for Air Pollution Research
Amount £23,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Reading 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2022 
End 03/2022
 
Description NERC SCENARIO Studentship: Love isn't in the air: Assessing how air pollution interrupts insect sex pheromone signalling - Georgia England
Amount £0 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2020 
End 09/2024
 
Description Plant-plant communication in conifers: above- and below-ground resource allocation under abiotic stress
Amount € 500,000 (EUR)
Organisation University of Eastern Finland 
Sector Academic/University
Country Finland
Start 08/2021 
End 08/2025
 
Description The effects of two common air pollutants (diesel exhaust and ozone) on plant VOC mediated Interactions
Amount € 95,000 (EUR)
Organisation Finnish Cultural Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Finland
Start 08/2020 
End 08/2022
 
Description The little things that run a polluted world
Amount £104,000 (GBP)
Funding ID ECF-2020-017 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2021 
End 12/2023
 
Description ISCE 2021 Meeting Presentation - Diesel exhaust and ozone pollution reduce insect-mediated pollination services 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation by Dr James Ryalls to the 2021 International Society of Chemical Ecology annual meeting on work completed during the DOMINO project titled: Diesel exhaust and ozone pollution reduce insect-mediated pollination services.
The FADOE facility was promoted to researchers in the discipline at the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://isce2021.carlamani.com/ISCE2021-Provisional-Programme.pdf
 
Description ISCE 2021 Meeting Presentation - Field-scale effects of air pollution on invertebrate community composition in wheat 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation by Robbie Girling at the International Society of Chemical Ecology annual meeting to other academics in the field on the outputs of the DOMINO project title: Field-scale effects of air pollution on invertebrate community composition in wheat
The FADOE facility was promoted to researchers in the discipline at the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://isce2021.carlamani.com/ISCE2021-Provisional-Programme.pdf
 
Description Presentation at BES 2019 annual meeting in Belfast by James Ryalls 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation was made at the BES Annual conference in Belfast titles "Field-scale effects of elevated ozone and diesel exhaust emissions on insect pollination and natural enemy recruitment"

James Ryalls - Centre for Agri-Environmental Research, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading, UK
Neil Mullinger - Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian, UK
Ben Langford - Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian, UK
Eiko Nemitz - Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian, UK
Christian Pfrang - School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK
Robbie Girling - Centre for Agri-Environmental Research, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading, UK

This led to requests from other academics at the conference to conduct future collaborations with our research facilities and building on the DOMIN and FADOE projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/events/annual-meeting-2019/
 
Description Press release for publication of a paper directly from the research conducted during the DOMINO project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A press release was put out to coincide with the publication of a paper covering work from the DOMINO project in the journal Environmental Pollution. This resulted in international media coverage and multiple interviews. The reserch was reported by outlets such as New Scientist, The Wall Street Journal, the Times, the Independent, ABC news Australia, BBC World Service Radio and ITV news.
During this coverage we also promoted the FADOE facility.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.reading.ac.uk/news/2022/Research-News/Pollution-and-pollination