Published: Sat, September 01, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Warmer, hungrier bugs threat to crops

Warmer, hungrier bugs threat to crops

The hotter weather will also speed up their metabolism so they'll eat more, the researchers report in Thursday's journal Science. Their populations can also increase.

To investigate how insect herbivory on crops might affect our future, the team looked at decades of laboratory experiments of insect metabolic and reproductive rates, as well as ecological studies of insects in the wild.

"Insect pests now consume the equivalent of one out of every 12 loaves of bread (before they ever get made)".

"And, of course, the impacts from these insects will come on top of whatever effect climate change is already having", says Curtis Deutsch, an earth scientist at the University of Washington. A few studies have shown that the excess CO2, which plants use for photosynthesis, could initially boost the types of wheat grown in the Northwest. "But if temperatures rise, these insect populations will grow faster", said co-author Scott Merrill, a researcher at the University of Vermont.

Guy Poppy, who is Professor of Ecology at University of Southampton, UK, and works on food security said: "It is a novel piecing together of several pieces of a jigsaw". The US, now the world's largest maize producer, could suffer a 40% increase in insect-induced maize losses under current climate warming trajectories - and even more if temperatures rise over 2C. Tewksbury from the University of Colorado Boulder, US have studied along with their colleagues three grain crops which feed billions of people. Because of this, temperate and productive regions such as the United States, China, and France were projected to be the hardest hit.

Which regions would be affected?

And while pest populations may decline in some hotter tropical areas, they are expected to increase elsewhere as temperatures rise and additional ecosystems become favourable to the insects. By the end of the century, eleven European countries are predicted to see 75% or more in insect-induced wheat losses.

In Europe alone, scientists estimate that 16 million tons of wheat, maize, and rice per year are likely to be lost to pests by 2050.

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They used the worldwide data and made a mathematical prediction linking the insects' response to the growing temperature and the damage done to the crops.

Image copyright SPL Image caption Voracious: The European corn borer is expected to expand its range in warmer climes How will things play out?

Wheat, corn and rice account for 42 percent of calories eaten directly by humans globally, the researchers said.

A two-degree rise in global average temperature will result in total crop losses of approximately 213 million tons for the three grains, according to the study.

"It's a general model". The increase in pest pressure we actually see on the ground will depend on how we grow our crops. Prof Tewksbury told the BBC.

"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. This means there might be more crop-eating pests with the need to eat more precious crops.

Other adaptive solutions might include shifting planting dates, rotating crops more and planting crops that are more resilient to pests.

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