Rising temperatures are already starting to affect insect populations, especially in high-latitude regions such as northern Europe, where they are apparently less capable of adapting. Increased temperatures aren’t killing insects outright, but they are damaging young in such a way that those young insects, upon growing up, are less capable of reproducing, resulting in declining insect populations.
“Juvenile insects are extremely susceptible to environmental changes as they don’t move around much because they are either larvae—like butterfly caterpillars—or they don’t yet have wings to fly away,” said lead researcher Dr. Rhonda Snook of the University of Sheffield.
The study that revealed this compared fruit flies from Spain and Sweden and found that, while higher temperatures impacted both groups, the Spanish flies were better able to cope with the changes.
While they have not explored the effects on other insect species yet, the scientists behind the study are confident that the problem is not one exclusively for fruit flies. The next step for the researchers is to try and single out the genes that are responsible for making the Spanish fruit flies more adaptable.
“Identifying genes that are linked to increased and decreased reproduction is something which may be very useful not only in understanding how insects will cope with climate change, but from the perspective of controlling insect pests,” said Dr. Snook.
The temperature changes to which the fruit flies were exposed in the laboratory were only mild increases, meaning that more severe temperature increases in the wild could have an exponentially worse effect. As the global average temperature continues to rise, this could become a serious problem very quickly.
Although many people think poorly of them, insects are the most widespread animals on the planet, and they form essential parts of the ecosystems in which they make their homes. Declining insect populations will affect other organisms in the same ecosystem, which could lead to disastrous effects for a number of species and environments.