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Warming Climate May Cause Insect Pests To Eat More Crops: Study

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Researchers find that insect pests might grow in population and metabolism as temperatures continue to rise. This means there might be more crop-eating pests with the need to eat more precious crops.

How could this affect the world’s crops?

Ravenous Insects In A Warming World

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. Researchers from various universities worked together to see how the warming climate would affect crop-eating pests and found that the warming temperatures may increase the number and hunger of said pests.

The team looked into how insects that eat wheat, rice, and maize would respond to different climate scenarios and found that warming temperatures led to an increase in crop losses because of the insects. Specifically, researchers noted a 10 to 25 percent increase in losses for every degree of warming, especially in the more temperate regions.

Evidently, this is because the rising temperatures will cause the pest population and metabolism to increase dramatically, causing more of them to eat more of the precious crops. By 2100, when the world is predicted to be 2 degrees warmer than it is today, wheat crops might shrink by 46 percent, rice by 19 percent, and maize by 31 percent.

Hot, But Not Too Hot

Apparently, although the population and metabolism increase are expected, the pests can only take the heat up to a certain point. For instance, insect populations will grow faster in temperate regions that are growing warmer and more optimal for insect population growth, but in tropical regions where it is already hot, warmer temperatures will actually be too hot for the insects, so the growth will actually be slower. Because of this, temperate and productive regions such as the United States, China, and France were projected to be the hardest hit.

Among the three main crops, wheat is projected to suffer most from the insect population and metabolism boost because it is commonly grown in cooler climates, whereas rice is projected to suffer the least because it is typically grown in tropical region where the population increase is expected to be slower.

Adjusting To Crop Loss

Maize, wheat, and rice are staple crops all around the world and together account for 42 percent direct calories consumed by people worldwide. A 2 degree increase may result in the annual loss of 213 million tons of crops, adding to the already-dire food supply conditions in many parts of the world.

As a result, farmers might have to find new ways to adapt to climate change such as shifting their planting dates and crop rotations and trying various pest control methods. This, however, is easier said than done particularly in poorer countries.

“I hope our results demonstrate the importance of collecting more data on how pests will impact crop losses in a warming world — because collectively, our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we’re willing to tolerate,” said co-lead and corresponding author Curtis Deutsch of the University of Washington.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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