Insects currently consume between 5 to 20 percent of grain crops, according to the study published Friday in the journal Science, but if the planet continues to warm and climate change is not slowed or halted, the staples wheat, rice and maize could become scarcer, forcing farmers to create insect-resistant crops.
Lead author and University of Washington climate scientist Curtis Deutsch says in the study that crop loss to hungry insects on a warming planet could increase by 10 to 25 percent per degree Celsius of warming by the end of this century.
“We expect to see increasing crop losses due to insect activity for two basic reasons,” Deutsch, an associate professor of oceanography, said in a statement. “First, warmer temperatures increase insect metabolic rates exponentially. Second, with the exception of the tropics, warmer temperatures will increase the reproductive rates of insects. You have more insects, and they’re eating more.”
If surface temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius, the research suggests that annual crop losses would increase to 62 million tons of corn, 92 million tons of rice, and 59 million tons of wheat for a total of 213 million tons.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says about 800 million people currently go to bed hungry and malnutrition impacts one in three people in the world. Demand for food is expected to increase with the world’s population, which is projected to grow to 8.3 billion by 2030.
“I hope our results demonstrate the importance of collecting more data on how pests will impact crop losses in a warming world – because collectively, our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we’re willing to tolerate,” Deutsch said.