A warmer world likely means more and hungrier insects chomping on crops and less food on dinner plates, a new study suggests. In a paper published August 31 in the journal Science, a team led by scientists at the University of Washington reports that insect activity in today's temperate, crop-growing regions will rise along with temperatures.
Joshua Tewksbury, co-lead author of the research said, "In some temperate countries (zones), insect pest damage to crops is projected to rise sharply as temperatures continue to climb, putting serious pressure on grain producers". Its results suggest that global yield losses for the major crops evaluated will increase by 10 to 25% per degree of global surface warming, with the most significant declines occurring in numerous world's most productive agricultural areas, like the United States, France and China.
Deutsch says that according to their models, the Northwest has the right conditions to see a large increase in insect-related loss.
Researchers modelled increases in insect populations as well as how their metabolic rates change in a world that is getting ever so warmer. It implies that they are likely to need a lot more food during in their lifespan. "Increased pesticide applications, the use of GMOs, and agronomic practices such as crop rotations will help control losses from insects". But the overwhelming message of their study is that the temperature-driven global insect explosion will substantially reduce global grain supplies. Thus, the air temperature affects oxygen consumption, caloric requirements and other metabolic rates. The increased activity could drive crop loss, which is expected to increase as the planet warms. Maize-produced widely in regions where insect populations are expected to both rise and decline-would experience a 31% increase in insect-induced loss. The model was calibrated using global crop and climate data for several warming scenarios. But many others have found that climate change will lead to a global decrease in wheat, corn and rice yields - even before insects are taken into account. "But if temperatures rise, these insect populations will grow faster", said co-author Scott Merrill, a researcher at the University of Vermont's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Gund Institute for Environment. "Together, that's not good for crops", he said in a statement. Just a 2-degree rise in global average temperature will increase the total losses of three main grains by approximately 213 million tons.
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The researchers observed different loss rates due to the crops' different growing regions, Deutsch said. For example, much of the world's rice is grown in the tropics.
The team notes that farmers and governments could try to lessen the impact of increased insect metabolism, such as shifting where crops are grown or trying to breed insect-resistant crops. Meanwhile, one-third of the world's rice production comes from China, where future insect-induced losses could top 27 million tons annually.
That loss will be 50% higher because of insect damage, said Prof Tewksbury from the University of Colorado Boulder, US.