WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Climate change could provide the warmer weather pests prefer, leading to an increase in populations that feed on corn and other crops, according to a new study.
Warmer growing season temperatures and milder winters could allow some of these insects to expand their territory and produce an extra generation of offspring each year, said Noah Diffenbaugh, the Purdue University associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences who led the study.
"Our projections showed all of the species studied spreading into agricultural areas where they currently are not endemic," said Diffenbaugh, who is interim director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. "The greatest potential range expansion was seen with the corn earworm, which is known to infest other high-value crops such as sweet corn and tomatoes. Warming could allow populations to survive the winter in the upper Midwest, the key region for corn production, as well as areas of the West where other high-value crops are grown."
The United States is the largest corn producer in the world and contributes almost half of the world's total production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Within the United States, corn and corn syrup are used in common food items such as cereal and soft drinks, as well as being used as feed for livestock. Outside of the United States, struggling countries depend on U.S. corn crops to feed starving populations.
"The world depends on U.S corn production for a variety of uses," Diffenbaugh said. "Ethanol production and a growing world population are increasing demand for corn. Expansion of the pests' ranges could have substantial impacts through decreased yields and increased costs for seed and pest management."
Diffenbaugh collaborated with Purdue professors Christian Krupke, an entomologist, and Corinne Alexander, an agricultural economist, as well as with Michael White from Utah State University. The
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