Insect damage to plants is worse than ever before • Earth.com

Herbivorous insects eat leaves and can harm a plant’s ability to photosynthesize if enough leaves are eaten. This relationship goes back as long as there have been leaf-eating plants and insects on Earth. According to new research by scientists from the University of Wyomingtoday’s insects cause more damage to forests than their ancient ancestors.

The first study of its kind compares damage from insect herbivory on modern-era plants with damage identified on fossilized leaves from as far back as the Late Cretaceous period, nearly 67 million years ago. ‘years. The results are published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our work bridges the gap between those who use fossils to study plant-insect interactions over time and those who study these interactions in a modern context with fresh leaves,” says lead researcher Lauren Azevedo-Schmidt. “The difference in insect damage between the modern era and the fossil record is striking.”

The researchers examined fossilized leaves with evidence of insect feeding damage from the Late Cretaceous to the Pleistocene era, just over 2 million years ago. The results were compared to leaves collected by Azevedo-Schmidt from three modern forests. The analysis considered three different types of insect damage, and in all three categories, damage was more common in modern leaves than in those in the fossil record.

“Our results demonstrate that modern-era plants are experiencing unprecedented levels of insect damage, despite widespread insect decline,” the scientists wrote, suggesting the disparity may be explained by activity. human.

“We hypothesize that humans have influenced the frequency and diversity of (insect) damage in modern forests, with the greatest human impact occurring after the Industrial Revolution. Consistent with this hypothesis, herbarium specimens from the early 2000s were 23% more susceptible to insect damage than specimens collected in the early 1900s, a trend that has been linked to global warming.

The authors say, however, that climate change does not fully explain the increase in insect damage. They point to the need for further research to determine the precise causes of increased insect damage to plants, but scientists say global warming, urbanization and the introduction of invasive species have likely all had a major impact.

“This research suggests that the strength of human influence on plant-insect interactions is not controlled solely by climate change, but rather by how humans interact with the terrestrial landscape,” the researchers concluded.

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By Alison Bosman, Terre.com Personal editor