Scientists Have New Climate-Change Warning: Locusts

Researchers say climate change will prompt more outbreaks of crop-destroying insects
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 19, 2024 1:01 PM CST
As Earth Warms, Expect More of These 'Destructive' Pests
A farmer watches swarms of desert locusts that invaded his farm in Elburgon, Kenya, on March 17, 2021.   (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

Extreme wind and rain may lead to bigger and worse desert locust outbreaks, with climate change likely to intensify the weather patterns and cause higher outbreak risks, a new study has found. The desert locust—a short-horned species found in some dry areas of northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia—is a migratory insect that travels in swarms of millions over long distances and devastates crops, causing famine and food insecurity. A square-kilometer swarm of 80 million locusts can in one day consume crops enough to feed 35,000 people. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization describes it as "the most destructive migratory pest in the world." The study, published in Science Advances, said these outbreaks will be "increasingly hard to prevent and control" in a warming climate, per the AP.

Scientists analyzed outbreaks in Africa and the Middle East from 1985 to 2020, examining the insects' patterns to find out what may cause outbreaks to happen across long distances. They found 10 countries, including Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Yemen, and Pakistan, experienced the majority of locust outbreaks among 48 affected nations. The researchers found a strong link between the magnitude of desert locust outbreaks and weather and land conditions like air temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, and wind. Desert locusts are more likely to infest arid areas that receive sudden extreme rainfall, and the number of the insects in an outbreak is strongly impacted by weather conditions.

Major locust outbreaks can have huge financial impacts: It cost more than $450 million to respond to a locust outbreak in West Africa from 2003 to 2005, per the World Bank. The outbreak caused an estimated $2.5 billion in crop damage, it said. Countries affected by outbreaks are already grappling with climate-driven extremes like droughts, floods, and heat waves, and the potential escalation of locust risks in these regions could exacerbate existing challenges, said study co-author Xiaogang He. "Failure to address these risks could further strain food production systems and escalate the severity of global food insecurity," he said. More here.

(More locusts stories.)

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