Climate change projected to boost insect activity and crop loss, researchers say

Insect activities due to global warming cause more crop losses: study - Xinhua |

Insect activities due to global warming cause more crop losses: study - Xinhua |

A new study warns that insects may devour more crops as the planet heats up, potentially increasing their consumption of popular grains by as much as 25-percent.

A warming planet will see larger swarms of hungrier insects chomp through millions more tons of rice, maize and wheat crops globally by 2050, even if countries meet ambitious climate goals to curb carbon emissions, scientists said on Thursday.

The study, in the journal Science, uses data from across the globe to make a mathematical prediction that links the response of insects to temperature with the damage that is done to crops when the climate warms up. "First, warmer temperatures increase insect metabolic rates exponentially".

The US, the world's largest maize producer, could see an nearly 40 percent increase in insect-induced maize losses under current climate warming trajectories, a reduction of more than 20 million tons annually.

Apart from the droughts and dry spells, extreme weather, and rising temperatures that affect the world's crops, climate change apparently has another negative impact on crops.

"On average, the impacts on insects adds up to about a 2.5 percent reduction in crop yield for every degree C increase in temperature - for context, this is about half the estimated direct impact of temperature change on crop yields, but in north temperate areas, the impact of increases insect damage will likely be greater than the direct impact of climate on crop yields" said Tewksbury, who is also a research professor at CU Boulder.

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Comparably, in tropical regions the temperatures are already close to optimum for insects, which insulates crops to some degree.

Of all the regions that are to be affected by this expansion of insect habitats and ravenous appetites, Europe's "bread basket" region could be among the hardest hit, say researchers. But if temperatures rise, these insect populations will grow faster.

Deutsch and his colleagues found that the effects of temperature on insect metabolism and demographics were fairly consistent across insect species, including pest species such as aphids and corn borers. The red areas of the map show where wheat losses due to insects are projected to increase. Warmer temperatures accelerate individual insect metabolic rate, the scientists found. "Together, that's not good for crops", he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, one-third of the world's rice production comes from China, where future insect-induced losses could top 27 million tons annually.

The researchers observed different loss rates due to the crops' different growing regions, Deutsch said. At the same time, rice is less vulnerable to insects because it is grown in the tropics, where insect activity has already reached the maximum.

It may be possible to lessen the impact by breeding insect-resistant crops, or perhaps politicians could stop diddling and tackle the clear and present danger that climate change poses before it's too late. It is, as of now, the most productive wheat farming region in the world and pest projected pest impacts on European wheat could yield losses of over 16 million tons.

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