Aphids are sentinels of climate change

August 6, 2008

Aphids are emerging as sentinels of climate change, researchers at BBSRC-supported Rothamsted Research have shown. One of the UK's most damaging aphids - the peach-potato aphid (Myzus persicae) - has been found to be flying two weeks earlier for every 1°C rise in mean temperature for January and February combined.

This year, the first aphid was caught on 25 April, which is almost four weeks ahead of the 42-year average. This work is reported in BBSRC Business, the quarterly research highlights magazine of BBSRC (the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council).

Dr Richard Harrington of the Rothamsted Insect Survey said:
"One of the most noticeable consequences of climate change in the UK is the frequency of mild winters. As a direct result of this, aphids seeking new sources of food are appearing significantly earlier in the year and in significantly higher numbers. We have been studying the seasonal biology of aphids for a long time now and we know that populations can continue to grow over the winter and spring provided that conditions are warm enough. After a warm winter, there are much larger numbers flying and they are hence detected much earlier. This means that there are more aphids flying in spring and early summer, when crops are particularly vulnerable to damage."

Scientists at Rothamsted Research have been monitoring the flying form of all aphid species for 42 years. They use a network of 16 suction traps (12 in England and 4 in Scotland), placed at various sites, to collect a representative sample of all flying insects.

The long term data on aphids can be used to understand the wider implications of climate change, and also to prepare for the season ahead by determining the need for and timing of aphid control measures (based on preceding winter temperatures). As well as being important indicators of a changing climate, aphids can cause devastating damage to crops. They extract large amounts of sap, weakening the plant, and also spread plant viruses.

In addition, because the sap is very high in sugars the aphids excrete very sticky honeydew, which can encourage the growth of sooty moulds that build up and prevent sunlight from reaching the leaves, causing further weakening.

Professor Nigel Brown, Director of Science and Technology, BBSRC said:
"Environmental change is one of the big challenges facing the world today. These long-term data on the seasonal appearance of flying aphids not only show that there are already noticeable changes in the UK climate, but they also provide the knowledge which will help to mitigate the consequences."

Source: BBSRC

Explore further: Climate change governs a crop pest, even when populations are far-flung

Related Stories

Big science from small insects

September 22, 2014

Anniversaries are often a time to look back. But after taking stock of the past, it can be just as important to look to the future.

Drones at the service of biodiversity

February 10, 2016

To study how living systems respond to climate change, it is necessary to take a look at the ecological living conditions of animal and plant species. For most of these organisms (insects, reptiles, plants, etc.), observations ...

Recommended for you


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.7 / 5 (9) Aug 06, 2008
Might even be a better predictor than their hopelessly flawed computer models.
3 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2008
I guess these scientists would be pleased if the UK was frozen year around and there were no aphids! Seriously, how about some reports on how warming actually helps in various ways. Using the UK as an example, back during the middle ages warming period, they had excellent vinyards and vied with France as the top wine producer.
3 / 5 (8) Aug 06, 2008
It's amazing how these aphids are showing up earlier due to a temperature rise that isn't there...
3 / 5 (2) Aug 08, 2008
Ever notice how "climate change" only helps bad things, and always hurts cute, cuddly things? Why are we being bombarded by this ridiculous pseudo-science.
3 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2008
yes, the earth is a cute, cuddly thing... right.
not rated yet Sep 23, 2008
Temperature rise is real, there is no debate there.

Models are usually not exact, complex computer models have their flaws, but they are considered to have more value than empty retoric.

Ever notice how some people pretend there is nothing going on, no need for any decent arguments, a lot like some atheists who dismiss any form of religion without the possibility of arguing.

Climate change doesnt do bad things, it may have big consequences we humans dont like, there may be beautifull summers but it could also mean there is a bigger chance of tornadoes,it may mean bigger harvests or it could mean droughts.

So i hope many brilliant scientists will do the best possible job of finding out what is true and what is not, the complexity of things makes it hard to understand but they will progress.

politics doesnt help much here with distorting on either side but lets hope we will have smart people in power who have a better understanding of what really is going on, based on sound science of course.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.