Climate change and its impact on invasive pests: A case study

Climate change is widely recognized as having a global impact on people and the environment. This may occur in multiple ways, including increased air temperatures, changes in precipitation and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, among others, which consequently has an enormous influence on all human activities, particularly agriculture. In recent decades, on the other hand, the intensification of international commerce and agricultural trade has led to invasive species being introduced to new areas, away from their indigenous range. Further, shifts in the geographical distribution of invasive pests, including arthropods, pathogens, and weeds, poses a significant challenge on pest management thus endangering crop production.

Climate change and invasive pests is the main topic of a recent publication in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management (Issue 1, 2024) authored by CIPM Director Danesha Carley, Jennifer Cook, and Sherrie Emerine. The publication addresses the question of how weather events such as a warming environment, elevated carbon dioxide levels, and those affecting water availability could potentially impact three major soybean pest problems, the grassy weed Johnson grass, the sap-feeding insect kudzu bug, and charcoal rot, a soilborne fungal disease. Aside from being responsible for substantial yield reductions, the distribution of these pests is known to have moved northward as they have adapted to conditions in higher latitudes.

Warmer temperatures and elevated CO2 concentrations would likely affect soybean metabolism and growth, while reducing protein content and quality. Johnson grass, on the other hand, is expected to be more tolerant and respond comparatively more vigorously under drought conditions. Increased temperatures would also impact kudzu bug survival and reproduction, resulting in higher densities, potentially increasing the number of generations, and ultimately raising the risk of invasion, while a hot and dry weather is considered optimal for charcoal rot development. Understanding how pests respond to climate change will be instrumental in finding innovative solutions to effectively mitigate their impact in the future.