Climate change appears to be promoting the spread of crop pests throughout the world as regions once too cold to sustain them begin to warm.
Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the study, carried out by researchers at the University of Exeter and the University of Oxford, demonstrates a strong relationship between increased global temperatures over the past 50 years and an expansion of the range of crop pests.
Specifically, the scientists determined via an examination of the distribution of 612 crop pests that the invasive species are moving toward the poles at a rate of 3 kilometers per year.
Already 10 to 16 percent of global crop production is lost to pests, according to the researchers, with losses due to fungi and fungi-like microorganisms alone amounting to enough to feed 9 percent of the global population. Should global warming continue on its projected path, the study warns, these figures are bound to increase.
"If crop pests continue to march polewards as the Earth warms the combined effects of a growing world population and the increased loss of crops to pests will pose a serious threat to global food security," co-author Dan Bebber of the University of Exeter said in statement.
International freight transportation represents the primary process through which pests are spread; however, in previous times, colder and harsher climates tended to kill them off before they could take root.
To combat this, says co-author Sarah Gurr, also from the University of Exeter, international government officials must pay greater heed as to what crops they allow to cross their borders.
"Renewed efforts are required to monitor the spread of crop pests and to control their movement from region to region if we are to halt the relentless destruction of crops across the world in the face of climate change," she said.
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