August 11, 2009

Climate change also affects insects

A U.S. researcher says climate change affects are as important to animals as they are to insects such as butterflies and beetles.

Animals such as polar bears, tigers and dolphins are tremendously important, but mostly because they help define how we think about our relationship with the natural world, University of Notre Dame Assistant Professor Jessica Hellmann said. But when it comes to the functioning of ecosystems, insects are where it's at. They carry diseases, they pollinate and they have economic impacts on crops and timber.

National Science Foundation-funded research conducted by Hellmann and doctoral student Shannon Pelini suggests global warming might affect a single insect species differently throughout its various life stages, and that global warming affects different insect species in varying ways.

Pelini and Hellmann conducted experiments that exposed caterpillars of two butterfly species to various climates and plants that occur across their ranges, and then monitored the species' growth and survival rates.

They also considered the impact of managed relocation -- moving insect species to new environments to save them from global warming.

The scientists' findings are detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.