Dying Winds Are Playing With The Food Chain
It has long been known that climate change is impacting the world's ecosystems for better or worse, but a new study details one way that the dog-eat-dog world of nature is changing that a lot of experts didn't see coming. Changing wind patterns are altering how easily predators can find prey, resulting in new situations that many species are just not prepared for.
Image you're an aphid - a tiny green creature hopping along a vast landscape of towering soybean plants that seem to go on forever. Your sole concern in life is the Asian lady beetle, a monstrous creature who descends from the sky on speckled blood-red rings, gnashing its horrible black maw in anticipation of rending through your chitinous body.
Thankfully, the winds have always favored your kind, tossing these monsters away from potential prey at their mysterious whim. Even the most unlucky of aphids can be saved by the wind, or so it is said.
But now the winds have died forever, and you can hear a foreboding buzz in the air...
Such a horrific scene is actually happening in real time, according to a study recently published in the journal Ecology.
Brandon Barton, a zoologist at the University of Wisconsin Madison, recently launched an experiment with soy plant fields to determine just how important wind can be in a predator-prey world. (Scroll to read on...)
He quickly found that a major soybean pest, the aphid, is twice as prevalent in fields harried by frequent winds, compared to fields with little wind. Not surprisingly, he and his team found that ladybugs, the natural predator of the aphid, were more than 60 percent more abundant in fields shielded from the wind, as they didn't have to compete with sudden gusts while on the hunt.
"How do you do your duty as a predator if you're entire world is moving around?" Barton asked in a recent release. "If the plant is moving, it takes four times as long for the predator to start eating, and it eats less than half as many aphids in an hour."
Wind speeds in the Midwest are expected to decline as much as 15 percent during the 21st century thanks to shifting trade-winds and climate change, and while this sounds like a boon for soybean farmers, it may have some disturbing implications.
"The mechanism may be different for other predators, but it's not hard to start thinking about effects," Barton added. "Think of a wolf or coyote. Larger predators hunting by scent - and the prey trying to detect their predators - may be affected by less wind moving scents around."