Arctic Study of Insect Life Reveals Impact of Climate Change

They may be small but insects are vital to the well being of the Earth’s ecology. Now researchers have reported major changes taking place in insect communities in the Arctic.

Parasitoid wasps locate their hosts using a delicate sense of smell, as hidden in the long antennae. The image shows an adult wasp of Aoplus groenlandicus. credit

Professor Tomas Roslin from the University of Helsinki and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), said:

“Predators at the top of the food web give us a clue to what is happening to their prey species, too. These results increase our understanding of how global warming is changing nature. At the same time, they suggest new inroads for finding answers to big questions in the field of ecology.

“”In areas where summers are rapidly warming, we find a higher proportion of cold-sensitive predators than we might expect based on the previous climate.”

The study joined research teams working in Greenland, Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland and Iceland, which together compared regions where the climate has changed at different rates and in different ways in recent decades.

The research has involved working in a new way and by collaborating with other scientists across the Arctic rather than flying one group out for a single research base.

Tuomas Kankaanpää, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki, said:

“The climate of the Arctic is currently changing about twice as fast as the global average. Therefore, the Arctic region provides an important laboratory when we try to understand the effects of climate change on nature.

“To distinguish the key consequences of climate change, we have focused on some of the most important predators in the Arctic, parasitoid wasps and flies. “

Parasitoid wasps can be divided into two groups: idiobionts and koinobionts. Cryptus arcticus is an idiobiont attacking host larvae just as they are pupating. Since the host is already immobile at this stage, the parasitoid has to overwinter on site chosen by the host. Credit Tuomas Kankaanpää

He continued:

“These parasitoids are predators whose larvae develop on or within a single host individual and usually kill it in the process. And now we have found that climate change is dramatically affecting the relative dominance of different types of parasitoids.”

“A common approach to predicting the effects of climate change is to compare contemporary communities of organisms in different climates.

“We can already compare areas where the climate has changed in different ways. This is especially true in the Arctic, where change, and at the same time regional disparities, are large.”

Parasitic flies are some of the most abundant predators of the Arctic. Here an adult fly of Peleteria aenea is having a rest from hunting on the underside of an Avens flower. Photo: Tuomas Kankaanpää.

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