The Affect on Global Bug Problems Caused By El Niño
El Niño is a climate cycle that causes the temperature of seawater in the east-central equatorial Pacific region to rise above the average. The phenomenon also causes rainfall from storms to head in an eastern direction (along with ocean temperatures) and for trade winds to weaken and engage in a reverse direction. Here in Northern California, we are not seeing a huge impact just yet but research says come spring and summer, mosquitoes will become a reason for concern when in comes to global bug problems locally .
People from different countries experience varying effects of El Niño, but they aren’t the only ones—smaller organisms, such as insects, are also sensitive and have their own reactions to the changes. Here are two specific examples of global bug problems thanks to El Niño that have been observed in recent months:
Weevils unable to pollinate palm plants in Malaysia
The tiny Elaeidobius kamerunicus, commonly known as the weevil, plays a crucial role in the production of palm oil. This particular oil is a vital ingredient in numerous commercial products such as cosmetics and processed food items. Pollen grains stick to weevils’ legs and bodies, and the bugs transfer these from the male flowers to the female ones. Humidity is a typical condition in palm plantations, and it also contributes to the success of the bugs’ pollination activity, since moisture is an important requirement for enabling the pollen to stay on their bodies.
Weevils were introduced in Malaysia to aid palm production in the 1980s. From producing only 14 to 15 tons of fresh palm fruits per hectare (with pollination spurred on only by wind), the country was able to increase the output by as much as 43% or up to 20 tons with the weevils. Other insects can also pollinate palms, but their activity isn’t as specific to palms as the weevils’. Malaysia soon began producing a third of all the palm oil in the world.
However, because of the dryness brought on by El Niño in 2015 (which is reportedly at its most severe since it was first observed in the 1950s), weevils are unable to transport as many pollen grains as they used to. The productivity of palm plants is expected to drop by 10% within the first half of 2016, causing palm oil prices to go up.
How insects are reacting to the bizarre weather changes
Throughout decades (even centuries) of study, experts in insect activity have observed that the tiny organisms follow regular patterns of activity throughout the year—that includes active periods, mating seasons, hibernation cycles, and the like. It’s something that insects go through instinctively.
In Canada, however, locals are discovering bizarre changes in the common insects’ behavioral patterns. It seems that the bugs in Alberta are sticking around longer than they used to—and the warmer fall season caused by El Niño appears to be the culprit.
Spiders, flies and ladybugs were still reportedly active in October this year—something that’s quite unusual, since in previous years snow would have already been piling up onto Alberta’s homes at this time.
The warmer weather, according to local entomologists, are causing insects to confuse their times for hibernation and laying eggs, since they rely on cues from the weather to begin or end their cycles. Looking on the bright side, animals that feed on insects can benefit from a bigger supply of food before winter comes. A downside of this occurrence, however, would be that pests that damage trees and crops will still be around and multiplying when they should already be hibernating.