A new study highlights the effects of the changing weather on the food chain as a zoologist finds that diminishing wind speeds, which are attributed to climate change, can change the relationship between predator and prey. Findings of the research shows that changes in the wind could significantly affect the ability of some insects to capture their prey.
For the study published in the September issue of the journal Ecology, Brandon Barton, from the Department of Zoology of the University of Wisconsin, wanted to determine how winds affect predator-prey relationships so he and his team planted soybeans. Some of the plants were planted in plots where they were protected with wind blocks while some were left in the open.
Barton found that the soybeans in the fields with frequent winds had twice as more aphids, a major soybean pest that wreaks the harvest, compared with the soybeans that were planted in fields where there was little wind.
His team also found that ladybugs, the aphid's natural predator, were 60 percent more abundant in the fields that were protected from the wind apparently because they do not have to be concerned over sudden gusts that make hunting difficult for them.
Although the wind does not directly affect the aphids, the beetles buffet on them when there's a wind block causing the decline in their population.
"Plant movement doubled the amount of time it took predators to begin consuming aphids and decreased predation rate by two-thirds," Barton wrote. "These experiments illustrate how wind can have indirect effects on prey by altering predator behavior and show the importance of this under-studied effect of global change."
The findings of the study have implications on pest control. Fields with slower wind speeds, for example, may require lesser amounts of pesticides to protect soybeans from aphids and while the study has focused on the relationship between aphids and ladybugs, Barton said that the shifting winds may also affect other animal relationships.
"The mechanism may be different for other predators, but it's not hard to start thinking about effects," Barton said. "Think of a wolf or coyote. Larger predators hunting by scent - and the prey trying to detect their predators - may be affected by less wind moving scents around."
The warming of the Earth's poles reduces the temperature difference that is needed for the formation of the wind. Man-made structures also affect the situation as buildings serve as wind barriers.