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Global warming could attract more and hungry insectivorous insects



A warmer world probably means more and hungrier insects pating on crops and less food on plates, a new study suggests

Insects now consume about 10 percent of the world's food, but that becomes 15 to 20 percent increase at the end of the century, if climate change is not stopped, said study leader Curtis German, climate researchers of the University of Washington.

The study looked at the damage events that the corn borer and the Asian rice borer can cause as temperatures rise. It turned out that many of them will increase at important times for crops. The hotter weather will also accelerate their metabolism so they eat more, the researchers report on Thursday in the journal Science . Their predictions are based on computer simulations of insect and weather activity.

See also | Pest infestation could exacerbate Washington forest fires

"There will be a lot of crop losses, so there will not be so much grain on the table," said study co-author Scott Merrill, an ecology professor at the University of Vermont

Researchers predict additional losses of 53 million tonnes in wheat, rice and corn from hungry beetles when the temperature rises another 2.7 degrees. The study estimates that in this warmer scenario, corn, wheat and rice losses from insects are one third above the current level. The damage to Russia's rice harvest would increase sixfold. And nine countries – North Korea, Mongolia, Finland, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Bhutan, Armenia, the United Kingdom and Denmark – would experience at least a doubling of wheat lost by vermin.

If coal emissions are not drastically reduced, oil and gas, the world will reach that 2.7-degree mark and additional insect loss by 2050 – give or take a decade or so, German said.

"In the history of agriculture, one of the key issues is the ongoing struggle between farmers and insects," said Chris Field, director of Stanford University's Environmental Institute, who was not part of the study. "Based on this study, climate change is tilting the balance in the favor of insects."

The Russian wheat louse is a good example because "the populations are absolutely crazy … they are born pregnant," Merrill said. "If you raise the temperature a few degrees, you can see that the population is growing much faster."

Researchers recognize that richer countries can reduce losses caused by insecticides and other pest control methods.

Insect experts around the world worry about the declining number of flying insects, especially useful pollinators such as bees and moths. But while many insects decline for a variety of reasons, those related to agricultural crops – especially invasive species – seem to be better, said Doug Tallamy of the University of Delaware, who was not part of the study he considered too broad ,

The entomologist at the University of Illinois, May Berenbaum, described the study as unmistakable.

"Problem insects are expanding their circulation with global warming," she said in an e-mail.

Another study in the journal examined the vegetation of the world since the last ice age changed and applied this concept to the current warming. The study has seen massive changes in the earth's landscape around the globe for more than 14,000 years since the last glacier period.

The same magnitude of warming – more than 7 degrees – is projected with human climate change, but may be in just 100 years or so, said co-author of study co-author Jonathan Overpeck, a University of Michigan climate scientist.

"It really paints a picture that's a lot worse," Overpeck said, calling it "Vegetation Chaos." 19659002] ___

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears .

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