How Climate Change Is Expected To Affect Pest Problems

Updated for 2023

Although climate change has already and will continue to affect all facets of life, it is also affecting the scope and severity of pest problems. Because we are currently experiencing a dramatic climate shift, it is safe to assume that pest populations worldwide will be affected.

As a result, governments, corporations, and individuals may need to employ more robust pest control efforts. Without employing these efforts, pests will likely wreak havoc on ecosystems, buildings, materials, and food supplies.

Changes in Populations

As temperatures rise, a variety of pest populations will grow, and the populations of their predators will decline as a result, thus disrupting their surrounding ecosystem. This may be a result of a change in adapting to the hospitality status of an environment.

For example, the maize stem borer, which is a significant pest throughout Africa, is already growing in population, while their native predator — Cotesia flavipes — decrease in population. Without this predator to keep the maize stem borer in check, their population will continue to grow even more.

Generally speaking, we can see this trend across the world as pest populations adapt to rising temperatures by becoming more active and their metabolic processes increase. The resulting greater consumption of food can cause populations to expand.

Expanded or Altered Range

Although many pest populations will increase or decrease, others will also migrate to adapt to the change of hospitable status in an environment. Pests may move into new areas that are more suitable to their needs or as their previous habitat becomes less friendly to their needs. Therefore, areas that are not accustomed to particular pests may have to adjust their infrastructure and pest control practices to account for invading pest populations.

Invasion and Disruptions of Ecosystems

Ecosystems are very delicate, and the expansion and alteration of a pest population’s range can cause significant damage to an ecosystem that is not adapted to its presence. This can result in damage to other species losing their food supplies and habitats, which can have a devastating domino effect. Humans may also be affected as the ecosystems in their local area become imbalanced. Such imbalances can cause problems such as food and water shortages.

We can see this throughout history — in particular, with rabbits becoming an invasive species in Australia. European rabbits were introduced to Australia in 1859 and the population quickly exploded. To this day, these rabbits cause severe damage to ecosystems and agriculture as they operate in an environment that is unsuitable for their presence.

Damage to Food Supplies

As briefly mentioned, changes in the behavior and size of pest populations can cause food shortages as they disrupt ecosystems. For example, growing and shifting pest populations may disrupt supply chains by damaging materials and infrastructure. Areas that are not accustomed to such pests would likely experience the most damage, as they may not have the means to protect food supplies from these new invaders.

Meanwhile, declines in certain species’ populations can also cause damage. For example, declines in the populations of pollinating insects can cause a reduction in plant growth.

Damage to Structures and Materials

Pests can cause damage to structures and materials in a variety of ways, depending on the specific species. For example, insects may damage mechanical tools of the supply chain while larger animals such as groundhogs may damage structures like roadways and buildings.

In addition, some communities that are less accustomed to certain types of pests may not utilize appropriately resilient materials for construction and manufacturing efforts. For example, wooden structures are at higher risk of damage from burrowing pests such as termites, ants, and chipmunks.

Changes in Size of Individuals

In addition to pests growing in population, many species are growing or shrinking in size as well. In the case of growth, this may be driven by changing metabolic rates and increased consumption. Meanwhile, some species may shrink as a means of adapting to changing temperatures and environments.For example, several species of beetles have been observed to shrink over several decades — some shrinking up to 20%. These observations were supported by controlled experiments which exposed beetles to high temperatures. Additionally, many species of spiders are observed growing in size, while some species of wasps, in response to climate-driven changes in their prey, seem to be shrinking in recent years.Even though this shrinking may sound like a good idea in theory, it can damage the environment even further. Shrinking species will be unable to collect and spread beneficial materials such as pollen and they also won’t be able to control competing and growing pest populations. These same growing species will continue to chip away at global food sources, which will increase food scarcity and impact global health issues.

Greater Spread of Diseases

Many diseases can be triggered and spread by insects. For example, mosquitoes spread malaria and ticks spread Lyme disease. As such, if the populations of these disease-spreading species increase and become more active, they can also more effectively spread disease. This can be particularly devastating in areas that are not as accustomed to particular disease-spreading species whose range is shifting.

These areas may not have the resources and experience needed to mitigate the spread of these diseases. For example, areas that are accustomed to large populations of malaria-spreading mosquitoes widely utilize mosquito nets. However, an area that is not accustomed to many mosquitoes may not be able to distribute mosquito nets quickly enough to manage a sudden influx of mosquitoes.

Pests can also cause foodborne illnesses, such as Salmonella and E. Coli. This occurs when pests come into contact with bacteria and then spread that bacteria to food or food preparation areas. In short, pests can destroy an incredible scope in a variety of ways.

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