Crop losses at the hands of swarms of hungry insects could double by 2050 as bug populations thrive in the warmer temperatures brought about by climate change.
The crops set to be hit hardest include wheat, maize and rice – particularly in northern climates – say scientists behind the shocking new study.
The research predicts that pest-induced crop losses will rise by between 10 and 25 per cent for every 1°F (0.55°C) the planet’s surface warms.
Farmers should begin grow heat- and insect-resistant produce now in order to prepare for the crop-hungry bugs, scientists warned.
Crop losses at the hands of swarms of hungry insects could double by 2050 as bug populations thrive in the warmer temperatures brought about by climate change (stock image)
The research, from an international team of scientists, used computer models to predict increases in insect populations in a warmer world.
The biggest losses will hit many of the world’s most productive agricultural areas, like the United States, France and China.
The study projects the proportion of European wheat crops lost to insects each year will double by 2050, while losses of North America maize will jump 40 per cent, even if countries meet their existing promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Co-lead author Professor Joshua Tewksbury, of University of Colorado Boulder, said: ‘In some temperate countries, insect pest damage to crops is projected to rise sharply as temperatures continue to climb.
‘This would put serious pressure on grain producers.’
Insects in a warmer climate are expected to be even hungrier and more numerous.
Warmer temperatures have been shown to accelerate an individual insect’s metabolic rate, leading it to consume more food during its lifespan.
And while pest populations may decline in some hotter tropical areas, they are expected to increase elsewhere as temperatures rise and additional ecosystems become favorable to the insects.
The researchers calculated the potential for crop damage through to 2050 by combining climate projection data, crop yield statistics, insect metabolic rates and other demographic information.
Insect pestilence already reduces net yields of wheat, maize and rice, three staple grains that combined provide 42 per cent of total calorie consumption worldwide.
The new study calculated that just a 2°C (1.1°F) rise in global average temperature will result in total crop losses of approximately 213 million tons for the three grains.
The crops set to be hit hardest include wheat (pictured), maize and rice – particularly in northern climates, say scientists behind the shocking new study (stock image)
It found that Europe’s bread basket, including Britain, could be among the hardest hit.
Currently the most productive wheat producing region in the world, pest impacts on European wheat could create total annual pest-induced yield losses that could top 16 million tons.
Eleven European countries are predicted to see 75 per cent or higher increases in insect-induced wheat losses – including the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland.
Insects could also create major impacts on maize and rice yields in North America and Asia, respectively, according to the study.
The US, the world’s largest maize producer, could see an almost 40 per cent increase in insect-induced maize losses under current climate warming trajectories, a reduction of more than 20 million tons annually.
Meanwhile, one-third of the world’s rice production comes from China, where future insect-induced losses could top 27 million tons annually.
Professor Tewksbury said: ‘On average, the impacts from insects add up to about a 2.5 per cent reduction in crop yield for every degree Celsius increase in temperature.
‘For context, this is about half the estimated direct impact of temperature change on crop yields, but in north temperate areas, the impact of increases insect damage will likely be greater than the direct impact of climate on crop yields.’
The study recommended changes to global agricultural practices to adapt to the incoming changes.
These included increased selection for heat- and pest-resistant crops and new crop rotation patterns to reduce vulnerability to insects.
In some extreme cases, the researchers said that greater pesticide use may become necessary to secure regional food supplies, even at the cost of possible associated health and environmental damage.
WHAT SHOULD THE EU BE DOING TO PROTECT PEOPLE FROM CLIMATE CHANGE?
In 2013, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) published a report which looked at the frequency of extreme weather events.
Since then, there has been a continued rise in how common these events occur.
In order to cope when such adverse weather conditions strike, they made recommendations as to how the EU can better protect its citizens from climate change.
The report claimed that in order to best deal with the issues, it is necessary to understand them first.
To understand how global warming will affect the extremes of weather, it is necessary to study and model them.
2. Heat waves
Across the European continent, heatwaves can vary massively and have vastly different impacts.
Understanding the nuances of these phenomena is key to weathering the storm.
3. Flood defence and early warning
Good practice in flood preparedness and for flood defence across Europe should be shared, including information about different responses to flood preparedness and flood warnings.
The report stated that the agriculture sector as a whole needed to improve.
Vulnerability to extreme weather and possible measures to increase resilience should be produced.
5. Strengthen the knowledge of climate change
The research found that it was crucial that we viewed climate change adaptation as a continuous process.
In order to do this sustained observations, analysis and climate modelling about the Earth are integral parts of a robust and flexible climate-change adaptation strategy.
It claims knowledge dissemination, innovation and building international relationships is key.
6. Changes in policies
Before adaptation can be achieved, there are several barriers which include those that are physical, technical, psychological, financial, institutional and knowledge-based.