And if that's the case, "plants that don't depend on animal pollinators would do better than plants that do depend on animal pollinators," he added. "Plants that can be pollinated by the wind, or plants that can pollinate themselves, might be expected to do better and their populations to be proportionally larger in areas where there is lots of pollution."
Two years ago an international team reported that a 25-year study had found just that in the Netherlands and parts of Great Britain. When the bee population declined, so did the plants that the bees pollinate.
"In Britain, pollinator species that were relatively rare in the past have tended to become rarer still, while the commoner species have become even more plentiful," Stuart Roberts of the University of Reading said at the time. "Even in insects, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."
That trend has not been documented yet in the United States, but there is no debate about the decline in pollinators. In the last 50 years the bee population that farmers depend upon for pollination has declined by 50 percent, according to one study. The decline in bees has been blamed chiefly on diseases spread by mites and viruses, as well as pollution and pesticides.
Now, scientists may be able to add another element to the equation. The sweet aroma coming from flowers isn't as strong as it once was, and that's probably happening all over the globe.
Lee Dye is a former science writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska.