Crop pests and pathogens move polewards in a warming world


Global food security is threatened by the emergence and spread of crop pests and pathogens. Spread is facilitated primarily by human transportation, but there is increasing concern that climate change allows establishment in hitherto unsuitable regions. However, interactions between climate change, crops and pests are complex, and the extent to which crop pests and pathogens have altered their latitudinal ranges in response to global warming is largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate an average poleward shift of 2.7±0.8 km yr−1 since 1960, in observations of hundreds of pests and pathogens, but with significant variation in trends among taxonomic groups. Observational bias, where developed countries at high latitudes detect pests earlier than developing countries at low latitudes, would result in an apparent shift towards the Equator. The observed positive latitudinal trends in many taxa support the hypothesis of global warming-driven pest movement.

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Figure 1: Latitudinal range versus longitudinal range.
Figure 2: Latitude versus year of earliest observation for all pests, in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Figure 3: Latitude versus year of observation for pest taxonomic groups in the Northern Hemisphere from 1960 onwards.
Figure 4: Mean latitudinal shift (km yr−1) for pest taxonomic groups in the Northern Hemisphere for all years, and for 1960 onwards.


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The authors thank Earthwatch and the HSBC Climate Partnership for financially supporting D.P.B.

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M.A.T.R. collected the data, D.P.B. analysed the data and following discussion with S.J.G., D.P.B. and S.J.G. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Sarah J. Gurr.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bebber, D., Ramotowski, M. & Gurr, S. Crop pests and pathogens move polewards in a warming world. Nature Clim Change 3, 985–988 (2013).

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