June 19, 2024

Scientists Warn of Insects Damaging Plants at Unprecedented Levels

Lauren Azevedo-Schmidt searches for fossilized plants in Wyomings Hanna Basin in a deposit that is about 60 million years old. She and other scientists compared fossil leaves with modern samples and discovered higher rates of insect damage today. In the study, fossilized leaves with insect feeding damage from the Late Cretaceous through the Pleistocene era, a little over 2 million years earlier, were taken a look at. The comprehensive research study looked at different types of damage triggered by bugs, discovering marked boosts in all recent damage compared to the fossil record.

This fossil leaf from Wyomings Hanna Basin, about 54 million years old, reveals damage by pests. Credit: Lauren Azevedo-Schmidt
Insects today are causing extraordinary levels of damage to plants, even as insect numbers decrease, according to new research study led by scientists from the University of Wyoming.
In the first-of-its-kind study, insect herbivore damage of modern-era plants was compared with that of fossilized leaves from as far back as the Late Cretaceous period, almost 67 million years earlier. The findings were just recently published in the prominent journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
” Our work bridges the space in between those who utilize fossils to study plant-insect interactions over deep time and those who study such interactions in a contemporary context with fresh leaf product,” states the lead researcher, University of Wyoming Ph.D. graduate Lauren Azevedo-Schmidt, now a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maine. “The difference in insect damage in between the fossilized record and the modern-day age stands out.”

Azevedo-Schmidt performed the research study together with the University of Wyoming Department of Botany and Department of Geology and Geophysics Professor Ellen Currano, and Assistant Professor Emily Meineke of the University of California-Davis.
Lauren Azevedo-Schmidt look for fossilized plants in Wyomings Hanna Basin in a deposit that has to do with 60 million years of ages. She and other researchers compared fossil entrusts to contemporary samples and found greater rates of insect damage today. Credit: Lauren Azevedo-Schmidt
In the study, fossilized leaves with insect feeding damage from the Late Cretaceous through the Pleistocene period, a little over 2 million years ago, were analyzed. They were then compared with leaves gathered from 3 modern forests by Azevedo-Schmidt. The detailed research took a look at various types of damage triggered by pests, finding marked boosts in all recent damage compared to the fossil record.
” Our results show that plants in the contemporary era are experiencing unprecedented levels of insect damage, regardless of extensive insect declines,” wrote the researchers, who suggest that the variation can be discussed by human activity.
Although more research is required to figure out the exact reasons for increased insect damage to plants, the researchers say a warming environment, urbanization, and the introduction of intrusive species likely have had a significant impact.
” We assume that humans have affected (insect) damage frequencies and varieties within contemporary forests, with the most human impact occurring after the Industrial Revolution,” the scientists composed. “Consistent with this hypothesis, herbarium specimens from the early 2000s were 23 percent most likely to have insect damage than specimens gathered in the early 1900s, a pattern that has actually been linked to environment warming.”
Environment modification doesnt totally describe the boost in insect damage, they say.
” This research study suggests that the strength of human impact on plant-insect interactions is not controlled by climate change alone but, rather, the method in which human beings connect with the terrestrial landscape,” the scientists concluded.
Reference: “Insect herbivory within contemporary forests is greater than fossil regions” by Lauren Azevedo-Schmidt, Emily K. Meineke and Ellen D. Curran, 10 October 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.DOI: 10.1073/ pnas.2202852119.