Warmer springs raise aphid risk

Scientists have warned that politicians are under-estimating the effects of climate change in a report on the world's most comprehensive database on any insect.

The data, collected for the past 41 years at Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire, has found damaging insect pests are now alive in the spring rather than the summer because of a 1.46 degsC rise in temperatures since 1966.

Scientists at Rothamsted have collected aphids every day, including weekends, holidays and Christmas Day, for four decades.

This has led to a far-reaching study, which is set to change previous attitudes on climate change.

Report author and lead scientist at the Institute for the Environment at Brunel University Angus Westgarth-Smith said: "Politicians are saying temperatures may rise 3 degsC to 5 degsC in 50 years. We're saying if a 1.5 degsC rise causes aphids to fly one month early then a 5 degsC rise will make them fly three months earlier.

"(This) is a huge ecological change. And I would say that is ecologically unacceptable. We could, in 10 years' time, be looking at devastation in the timber industry. An accelerating number of aphids is accelerating the problem.

"Immediate action is needed to stop and, if possible, reverse the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change."

Spruces are the most widely used timber tree in the UK. The green spruce aphid, Elatobium abietinum, causes defoliation of spruce trees and reduced growth. Brunel University found Britain's forestry industry is at risk because destructive insects are flying a month earlier than 40 years ago.

The research, published in scientific journal Quaternary International and reviewed by online journal Nature Reports Climate Change, was based on data from a suction trap at Rothamsted, 40km north of London. The trap is a 12.2m-high pipe and is one of 16 such traps spread throughout the UK.

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