Climate change affecting insects? Who knew that was possible!?
More often than not, you hear bitter remarks about how people dislike winter. They do not enjoy wearing poofy jackets and boots, to make their way through slush and snow to get to school or work. This year, Guelph only received consistent snow coverage around mid-January. Remember when it used to snow in November? Being honest, I enjoyed the lack of snow. It made getting to and from class easier, driving safer, and the wearing of heavy sweaters versus a ski jacket more acceptable. To tell you the truth, I never really paid much attention to climate change and how a mild winter here, would have such a huge impact elsewhere worldwide. I vaguely understood the severity of climate change until last semester when I took a required course, Discovering Biodiversity (BIOL*1070). A section of the course discussed a world 8°C warmer, and this fascinated me. I will discuss more about the relativity of this course, later in the blog post.
While browsing through the Toronto Star, I found an article that truly peaked my interest. I am very animal-oriented, I love anything to do with animals; so I found this article to be great. The article discussed how temperature swings have the capacity to cause stress in animals. It stated that animals (voles, salamanders, wood frogs, etc.) are dying because of a lack of snow insulating their habitats, exposing them to the harsh reality of a cold winter.
A major part of our climate change section within BIOL*1070 discussed insects and their capacity to be freeze-tolerant. The article discusses how it is unknown what rapid “freeze-thaw cycles” have on the survival of species and the sustainability of their offspring. Insects are ectotherms, animals that rely on environmental sources of heat, which make them conformers. Freeze tolerant insects produce nucleating agents in the autumn to initiate freezing in the extracellular fluid around cells. In a way, insects have windshield fluid in their blood. The insects produce glycerol to decrease the freezing point of the cytosol to protect their cells. If the fluid inside the cell freezes, ice crystals puncture the delicate membranes, killing the insect. It is all about controlled ice formation, and with the freeze-thaw cycles that we have been experiencing because of climate change, it has been very difficult for animals, especially freeze tolerant insects to survive. Their circadian rhythms have been affected and many of them have been succumbing to climate affecting their ability to control internal ice formation.
The media often focuses on the effects of climate change on wildlife, and there is little on how climate change affects insects. It is frightening that a temperature change this minute can affect the biodiversity of life so greatly. The loss of insects would affect food chains and ultimately cause the collapse of entire ecosystems. If you would like to learn more about the effects of climate change on insects, please refer to The Journal of Experimental Biology.