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Change in Wind Speed Affects Foraging Behavior of Insects

Sep 20, 2014 06:26 AM EDT
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Change in wind speeds or "global stilling" can affect hunting behavior of insects, a new study has found.

University of Wisconsin Madison researchers say that rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns might have gotten the lion share of publicity; however, changes in wind speed can also damage biodiversity.

Wind speed in Midwest is expected to decrease by as much as 15 percent this century.

"There are all sorts of other things that are changing in the environment that affect animals and plants and their interactions," said Brandon Barton, a UW-Madison postdoctoral researcher, according to a news release. "My students and I were standing out in a cornfield one day as big gusts of wind came by, and the corn stalks were bending almost double. From the perspective of an animal living in the corn, we thought, 'That's got to have a big effect.'"

Earth's poles are warming up rapidly, which has reduced the temperature difference that allows winds to form. Also, Buildings and other man-made structures slow down wind speed, researchers said.

The researchers found that some creatures such as the Asian lady beetle is affected by changes in the wind speed.

In the study, the team grew soybeans in alfalfa fields. They installed barricades in some plots and let some plots open to natural wind.

The researchers found that lady beetles preferred the sheltered plots whereas their prey - the soybean aphid - liked to stay in the wind-swept fields.

"The aphids appear on the plants whether it's windy or not, and we showed that in lab experiments," Barton said in a news release. "But when you add the predators, with the wind block, the beetles eat something like twice as many aphids."

In the controlled lab experiments, the researchers stimulated wind speeds by shaking and bending the plants. They found that lady beetles were most likely to prefer a still plant over a plant that's constantly moving.

"How do you do your duty as a predator if you're entire world is moving around?" said Barton. "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."

Barton's work is funded by National Science Foundation and the latest study is published in the journal Ecology. 

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