Scientists warn that widespread locust outbreaks pose a risk of more erratic weather

Scientists warn that widespread locust outbreaks pose a risk of more erratic weather

Extreme winds and rain could lead to larger and worse desert locust outbreaks, with human-caused climate change potentially intensifying weather patterns and causing greater outbreak risks, a new study finds.

The desert locust – a short-horned species found in some dry regions 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 destroys crops, causing famine and food insecurity. A swarm measuring one square kilometer includes 80 million locusts, and can consume enough food crops to feed 35,000 people in one day. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization describes it as “the world’s most devastating migratory pest.”

The study, published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday, said such outbreaks “will be increasingly difficult to prevent and control” in a warming climate.

Xiaogang He, study author and assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, said that frequent and severe extreme weather events due to climate change could increase the unpredictability of locust outbreaks.

But he expressed hope that the study would help countries understand and address “the impacts of climate variability on locust dynamics, particularly in the context of its implications for agricultural productivity and food security,” and urged improved regional and continental cooperation between countries and control organizations to respond. Quickly build early warning systems.

To assess the risks of locust outbreaks in Africa and the Middle East and their link to climate change, scientists analyzed desert locust outbreak incidents from 1985 to 2020 using the FAO Locust Center data tool. They created and used a data-driven framework to examine insect patterns to see what might cause disease outbreaks over long distances.

They found that 10 countries, including Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Yemen and Pakistan, experienced the majority of locust outbreaks among the 48 affected countries.

The worst desert locust outbreak in 25 years hit East Africa in 2019 and 2020, when the insects invaded hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and damaged crops, trees and other plants, impacting food security and livelihoods.

Al-Fatih Abdel-Rahman, a scientist at the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology who was not involved in the study, said that a large-scale desert locust outbreak due to climate change will greatly threaten livelihoods in affected areas due to reduced food production and increased food supply. the prices.

The researchers also found a strong link between the size of desert locust outbreaks and weather and ground conditions such as air temperature, precipitation, soil moisture and wind. Desert locusts are more likely to invade arid areas that receive sudden heavy rains, and the number of insects in an outbreak is strongly influenced by weather conditions.

El Niño, a natural and recurring climate phenomenon that affects weather around the world, has also been strongly linked to larger and worse desert locust outbreaks.

Erratic weather and rainfall lead to spikes in vegetation and thus lead to massive locust population growth, said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who was not part of the research.

“As this volatility increases, it is reasonable to predict that locust outbreaks will also increase,” Tallamy said.

The study is “another example of what should serve as a very strong wake-up call for communities around the world to come together to reduce climate change and its impacts, but also to implement strategies in response to global events such as the growing threats to the Sahara.” “Locusts,” said Paula Shrewsbury, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland. Shrewsbury was not involved in the study.

The study found that particularly vulnerable locations such as Morocco and Kenya remain high risk, but locust habitats have expanded since 1985 and predicts they will continue to grow by at least 5% by the end of the 21st century, as is expected in western India and western Central Asia. .

He gives the example of the Empty Quarter, or Empty Quarter, a desert in the southern Arabian Peninsula, as a place that was not historically common for desert locust outbreaks but then became a hotspot. The desert witnessed an outbreak of locusts in 2019 after their uncontrolled reproduction following hurricanes, which filled the desert with freshwater lakes.

A large locust outbreak can have huge financial implications. The response to the locust outbreak that occurred in West Africa from 2003 to 2005 cost more than $450 million, according to the World Bank. She added that the outbreak caused losses estimated at $2.5 billion in crops.

Research author Xiao Gang said that countries affected by desert locust outbreaks are already grappling with extreme weather conditions such as drought, floods and heat waves, and the potential escalation of locust risks in these regions could exacerbate existing challenges.

“Failure to address these risks could increase pressure on food production systems and exacerbate global food insecurity,” he said.

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