Rising Temperatures Exacerbate Plants’ Exposure to Pest Attacks

Researchers at Michigan State University are warning about the effects of climate change on plants and their ability to protect themselves from pests.
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Researchers at Michigan State University are warning about the effects of climate change on plants and their ability to protect themselves from pests.

In the study, the researchers explored the effects of rising temperatures on caterpillar-infested tomatoes. What they found was pretty startling.  While the tomatoes resisted the effects of the pests, the rise in temperatures further compounded their woes.

Link to original study.

Warmer Temperatures Only Make Pests Stronger

There are two factors that primarily affect the productivity of plants, the study notes. The first, and perhaps most important, is that of rising temperatures.

As heat rises, insects metabolize more, thus becoming more aggressive in their destructive action. Warmer temperatures also provide insects with access to warmer climates and more accommodative regions for them to operate and thrive.

As for the infected plants, the report shows that they also don’t react too well to heat as well. Gregg Howe, a University Distinguished Professor at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, said,

“We know that there are constraints that prevent plants from dealing with two stresses simultaneously. In this case, little is known about how plants cope with increased temperature and insect attack at the same time, so we wanted to try and fill that gap.”

The report pointed out that plants have systems in place to deal with insect attacks. In the case of a caterpillar attack, the plant produces Jasmonate- a hormone that catalyzes the production of defense compounds that will halt the caterpillar’s progression.

When the temperatures get too hot, plants could lift their leaves from the hot soil, while also opening up their stomata to “sweat,” so water can evaporate to calm their skin pores.

As for tomato plants, they seem to be in a catch-22 of their own. Nathan Havko, a postdoctoral researcher in the Howe lab, explained that these plants produce more Jasmonate to beef up their defenses when “wounded.”

However, the hormone’s production prevents a plant from cooling itself down, thus reducing its ability to lift its leaves or open its stomata. Unable to cool off or sweat, and with the caterpillar’s metabolism being enhanced, survival chances for the plant are slim to none.

East Africa on Locust Watch

Climate change has so far been one of the most prominent issues in the agricultural space this year. Earlier this month, the United Nations called for quick relief efforts for the East African region, as a swarm of locusts threatens several countries.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) explained at the time that nymph desert locusts have proliferated across the backcountry of Somalia. As previously reported by GardenBeast, up to 360 billion locusts have invaded the country and are making their way across Ethiopia and Kenya and will soon be getting into Uganda.

The swarm of locusts, which is estimated to number some 360 billion
The swarm of locusts, which is estimated to number some 360 billion

Given the heavy reliance of locals in the area on crops, the international agency pointed out that this could grow to become a regional epidemic soon enough.

The Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG) has already estimated that about 19 million East Africans are facing an acute level of food insecurity. If the locust problem grows even further, things will get even worse, especially for food security.

Somalia, the country hit the hardest, has declared a state of emergency over the issue. Agriculture Minister Said Hussein Iid pointed out that at the time that the food source of millions are at risk, as desert locusts have now converged across the country. With their rapid reproduction, this is a food crisis waiting to explode.

Robin Watson

Robin owns his own Landscape Gardening company based in the UK and has over 10 years professional experience working outdoors, creating beautiful landscapes for his clients in the UK. He is also a keen garden-grower and maintains his own fruit and vegetable gardens. He also has a level 3 Certificate in Practical Horticulture from The Royal Horticultural Society and is currently working on his first book about gardening. Contact him at

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