Pests and diseases moving with climate change

Human movement, particularly international freight transport, enables much of the movement of pests and pathogens, but climate change means that regions previously uninhabitable by new pests are now habitable – they are thriving where they have not previously been able to.

Fungi, insects, worms, bacteria, viruses, and other organisms have been moving ever-poleward since at least 1960 to escape the increasingly warm climes of their original home regions, a study has found. The study investigated the historical movement of 612 well-known crop pathogens. Though movement varied by species – some insects were moving as rapidly as 20km a year – the average movement was 3km annually.

Beyond the usual economic ruin and famine that routine 10-16% losses to pests spell, this movement is worrisome for another reason: as pests find newly comfortable homes in regions farther north and south than before, they also move into some of the world’s highest-yielding agricultural areas. Should these pests successfully move into high-yield areas, the losses we will suffer could have devastating consequences for global food security.