The implications of predicted climate change for insect pests in the UK, with emphasis on non-indigenous species


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Recent estimates for global warming predict increases in global mean surface air temperatures (relative to 1990) of between 1 and 3.5 °C, by 2100. The impact of such changes on agricultural systems in mid- to high-latitude regions are predicted to be less severe than in low-latitude regions, and possibly even beneficial, although the influence of pests and diseases is rarely taken into account. Most studies have concluded that insect pests will generally become more abundant as temperatures increase, through a number of inter-related processes, including range extensions and phenological changes, as well as increased rates of population development, growth, migration and over-wintering. A gradual, continuing rise in atmospheric CO2 will affect pest species directly (i.e. the CO2 fertilization effect) and indirectly (via interactions with other environmental variables). However, individual species responses to elevated CO2 vary: consumption rates of insect herbivores generally increase, but this does not necessarily compensate fully for reduced leaf nitrogen. The consequent effects on performance are strongly mediated via the host species. Some recent experiments under elevated CO2 have suggested that aphids may become more serious pests, although other studies have discerned no significant effects on sap-feeding homopterans. However, few, if any of these experiments have fully considered the effects on pest population dynamics. Climate change is also considered from the perspective of changes in the distribution and abundance of species and communities. Marked changes in the distribution of well-documented species – including Odonata, Orthoptera and Lepidoptera – in north-western Europe, in response to unusually hot summers, provide useful indications of the potential effects of climate change. Migrant pests are expected to respond more quickly to climate change than plants, and may be able to colonize newly available crops/habitats. Range expansions, and the removal of edge effects, could result in the increased abundance of species presently near the northern limits of their ranges in the UK. However, barriers to range expansions, or shifts, may include biotic (competition, predation, parasitism and disease), as well as abiotic, factors. Climatic phenomena, ecosystem processes and human activities are interactive and interdependent, making long-term predictions extremely tenuous. Nevertheless, it appears prudent to prepare for the possibility of increases in the diversity and abundance of pest species in the UK, in the context of climate change.