Study: Crop losses to pests will soar as climate warms

This article discusses the problems climate change will have on food production. Rising temperatures make insects eat and breed more, leading to food losses growing world population cannot afford, say scientists.

Rising global temperatures mean pests will devour far more of the world’s crops, according to the first global analysis of the subject, even if climate change is restricted to the international target of 2C.

Increasing heat boosts both the number and appetite of insects, and researchers project they will destroy almost 50% more wheat than they do today with a 2C rise, and 30% more maize. Rice, the third key staple, is less affected as it is grown in the tropics, which are already near the optimal temperature for insects – although bugs will still eat 20% more.

Rising heat stress on crops is already expected to cut cereal yields by about 10% for 2C of warming, but the new research indicates rising pest damage will cause at least another 4-8% to be lost. With 800 million people chronically hungry today and the global population rising towards 10bn, increasing pest destruction will worsen food security.

The research, published in the journal Science, started with well-established knowledge about how rising temperature affects insects. “Warmer temperatures increase insect metabolic rates exponentially [and] increase the reproductive rates,” said Deutsch. “You have more insects, and they’re eating more.” The team then added data on today’s pest losses and used a range of climate change models to estimate future losses – all showed significant damage.

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