Insects, Climate Change and the Future of Pest Management 

When you sit at the dinner table enjoying a colorful salad full of fresh produce, are you considering the impact that insects play in the loss of global crop production? If you’re not in pest management, probably not. But if you are, the numbers are staggering. 

Approximately 20% to 40% of crops produced around the world are lost each year due to pests. In addition, invasive insects cost the global economy an estimated $70 billion annually. And because climate change continues to slowly increase the earth’s temperature and play with its precipitation levels like a child with a water hose, we must ask: If climate change has the potential to increase the number of pests globally, will that have an impact on pest management in the future? 

Put simply, yes. Join us as we explain everything you need to know about insects and climate change and the effect they may have on the pest management industry. 

What Is Climate Change, Really

Climate change refers to long-term changes in the earth’s weather patterns and temperatures. While slight shifts in temperature or precipitation levels are natural, human activities (like our global use of fossil fuels) have expedited the drastic effects of climate change. Fossil fuels account for 75% of global greenhouse emissions, which are responsible for trapping the sun’s heat in the atmosphere and increasing the earth’s natural temperatures. 

These changes are expected to lead to a variety of problems in the future, including: 

  • Higher temperatures 
  • Increased droughts 
  • More devastating storms 
  • Rising ocean levels 
  • Loss of species 
  • A lack of food 

Insects and Climate Change: What to Expect 

One of the causes of a potential food shortage could be the impact that climate change has on insects. Insects like the Mexican fruit fly and Asian citrus psyllid are responsible for the destruction of an array of fruits and vegetables. Imagine if those pests multiplied at a faster rate due to the rising temperatures, consuming and ruining an even higher number of crops. The result? Fewer crops available for global consumption and a lack of produce to meet the needs of consumers. 

Many insects are sensitive to changes in temperature and would react favorably to even the slightest temperature increase. With the global temperature expected to increase by 1.8 degrees Celsius (approximately four degrees Fahrenheit) over the next century, some species may begin to reproduce more quickly. This could eventually lead to insects destroying even more crops by way of: 

  • Expanding their geographic range via moving to other regions around the world. 
  • Creating more outbreaks of plant diseases. 
  • Increasing their overwintering (a winter hibernation) survival rate, meaning a higher number of pests waking up from their slumbers like ravenous bears ready for their first springtime meal: nearby crops. 

How Climate Change May Impact Pest Management Practices 

How will a potential increase in crop-consuming and disease-spreading pests affect the pest management industry? That will depend on how quickly each region can adapt to recurring and new species of pests discovering their crops. Some potential pest management strategies include: 

Incorporating Modified Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Practices 

IPM uses science-based decisions to identify and manage pests. By integrating new practices, farmers are more likely to generate a higher yield of crops each season. For example, since some species of insects are likely to multiply faster as temperatures increase, an integrated pest manager could lower the current treatment threshold so that crops are treated in a more timely manner. It may also be beneficial to plant a variety of crops at different times of the year to minimize exposure to a growing number of pests. 

Monitoring the Climate and Pest Populations 

One of the most effective ways of determining climate change’s impact on insects is by recording data in real-time. Long-term monitoring could provide the first round of analytics regarding changes in geographical distribution and transmission of plant disease brought about by pests. 

Using Prediction Modeling Tools 

With consistent monitoring, experts in the pest management industry can use predictive tools to determine the likelihood of some species of insects creating an extra generation each year. They could also use collected data to calculate whether pests are likely to migrate to new locations based on the level of temperature change. 

Make a Lasting Impact with UF’s Online Entomology and Nematology Programs 

With the number of insects potentially on the rise, the need for experts in the pest management industry is also likely to grow. From IPM managers to pest control technicians, if you’re interested in taking a stand against the pests that threaten the world’s yearly crop yield, check out all of UF’s online entomology graduate program offerings:  

You can complete this 30-credit degree in as little as two years while learning the foundational skills of entomology and specializing in the insect-related topic you’re most passionate about. 

This 15-credit graduate certificate allows you to focus on your specialization of choice so you’re ready for advanced career opportunities upon completion. 

Whether you choose a master’s degree or graduate certificate, both options are completed entirely online, and you can choose from four specialty areas, including: 

  • Medical entomology 
  • Landscape pest management 
  • Urban pest management 
  • Beekeeping 

UF proudly holds the title for the world’s number-one ranked entomology and nematology program, so you can expect a curriculum that focuses on current trends and studies that’ll teach you to easily identify landscape pests, develop carefully curated management plans and integrate those practices into real-world scenarios. Fill out a contact form to learn more about which program is right for you. 

Sources: 

https://www.nifa.usda.gov/about-nifa/blogs/researchers-helping-protect-crops-pests

https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/causes-effects-climate-change

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/pests-diseases/hungry-pests/the-threat

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8150874/

Learn More About the Program

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