Climate change may cause insects to gobble more crops, study finds
The future may bring plagues of locusts to devastate crops as global warming worsens, these experts say.
Arnaud Caron, a French farmer drives an old Mc Cormick F8-413 combine as he harvests his last field of wheat, in Vauvillers, northern France on July 23, 2018. A new study predicts wheat crops, especially, will be hit by insects as global warming worsens.Pascal Rossignol / Reuters file
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“Crop losses will be most acute in areas where warming increases both population growth and metabolic rates of insects,” they wrote. “These conditions are centered primarily in temperate regions, where most grain is produced.”
There is no doubt that the global climate is warming and no real debate about one big cause: human activity.
The effects are already being seen with heat waves, droughts, floods and stronger storms as ocean currents and atmospheric patterns are disrupted.
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Public health experts have noted an increase in insect-borne diseases, from Zika, West Nile and chikungunya viruses spread by mosquitoes, to a rise in infections such as Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks.
Now a team, including experts at the University of Washington, the University of Vermont, and the University of Colorado, has projected the effects that warmer temperatures will have on insect damage to major food crops.
"First, warmer temperatures increase insect metabolic rates exponentially,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington who worked on the study.
“Second, with the exception of the tropics, warmer temperatures will increase the reproductive rates of insects. You have more insects, and they're eating more,” Deutsch said in a statement.
Farmers can deal with to some degree, the researchers said.
“Agricultural practices will shift as the climate warms. Changes in planting dates, cultivar use, and planting locations are already under way and will become more pronounced as the rate of climate warming increases,” they wrote.
They’ll also move to sometimes unpopular farming practices, said Rosamond Naylor, a professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University, who also worked on the study.
"Increased pesticide applications, the use of GMOs, and agronomic practices such as crop rotations will help control losses from insects,” Naylor said in a statement. “But it still appears that under virtually all climate change scenarios, pest populations will be the winners, particularly in highly productive temperate regions, causing real food prices to rise and food-insecure families to suffer."