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Four horrible pests that are thriving due to climate change


Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, August 16, 2015, 2:00 PM - Climate change is on the move, whether you believe humans are contributing or not.

That means major economic and environmental upheaval in the coming decades, but despite the dire outlook, we did scrounge up a few unexpected benefits of the process.

Unfortunately, some of the beneficiaries of climate change are the kind of pests you'd prefer would vanish altogether. Here are four of them.

Mosquitoes

Everybody's favourite campfire guests are loving the rising temperatures and more frequent rainfall that are plaguing some parts of the world.

And it'll only get worse as the process continues, with many breeds thriving in Europe and the United States.

At best, they're a minor nuisance afflicting those foolish enough not to bring any bug spray. But as those breeds spread, they're potential death bringers.

Mosquitoes are so feared because they're carriers of potentially deadly diseases, and they're expected to start showing up more often in areas not used to having them in the years to come.

The Independent reports malaria, for example, has already been re-established in parts of Greece, and West Nile and dengue fever are likely to spread in Europe as well. In the United States, 2012 was a record year for West Nile, and dengue cases rose 70 per cent between 2011 and 2012, according to Scientific American.

Also set to thrive: Chikungunya, whose symptoms include high fever, fatigue, headaches, nausea, joint pain and rashes, is spreading to new grounds from its traditional strongholds of tropical Africa and Asia.

Ticks

Every spring like clockwork, public health authorities roll out all the usual warnings about watching for ticks if you, your child or your pet are out and about outdoors.

And as the world warms, expect those warnings to become more urgent, and more frequent: Evidence suggests ticks are slowly pushing their stomping grounds further and further north. 

According to a recent study (reported by CTV), their range will include half of Ontario and most of southern Quebec (presently they’re only prevalent in more southern portions), most of the Maritimes (where they’re currently confined mostly to western Nova Scotia) and will even make inroads into the Prairie provinces by 2070.

Luckily, researchers say their raw numbers won’t skyrocket, but they will be more widespread – as will the risk of the Lyme disease many of them carry.

As it is, Lyme disease cases have been rising noticeably. In Canada, 682 cases were reported in 2013, up from 258 in 2011. In the U.S., the number of cases in recent years are twice what they were in 1991, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Authorities in Toronto say the risk of contracting the disease is still relatively low (according to CTV), but we will see how that changes as the decades pass.

Pine beetles

The mountain pine beetle, as the name suggests, loves munching on pine trees, and it has found the stock in western North America very tasty indeed.

Natural Resources Canada says since the current outbreak started in the 1990s, the bug has devoured 50 per cent of lodgepole pine in British Columbia, and also likes to snack on jack pine. 

The beetle is now found far into northern B.C., and the forests of north-central Alberta, as well as parts of Saskatchewan. Milder winters and warmer summers have not only opened new frontiers for the pests, it's also increased the survival rate of their young.

The problem has become so widespread, it's come full circle: Research released in 2012 suggests they are now actually contributing to climate change, rather than simply benefiting from it.

The study used satellite data gathered from 170,000 square kilometres of forest ravaged by the beetle, and found they were, on average, one degree warmer than healthier forests. Author Holly Maness told the Canadian Press that was because dead trees give off less moisture during hotter conditions, a process she likened to "sweating." 

"When you kill a tree, it's going to stop sweating. That means that solar radiation that was previously spent evaporating water from these trees is now going into heating the surface," she said.

Luckily, Maness says it's not likely to help the beetles spread faster, but it's not a good sign when your bug problem is large enough to affect your province's climate.

Jellyfish

Taking to the waves won’t save you from climate change-loving pests. In fact, that’s where you’ll find one of the biggest winners as oceans warm.

Jellyfish are booming worldwide. According to Bloomberg, warmer waters really allow them to thrive, increasing their metabolism so that they breed, eat and spread faster, and live longer. Overfishing has also made their lives easier, removing predators from the equation.

It’s not just a question of a couple more stinging hazards when you’re hitting the waves. Throngs of jellyfish, called blooms, number millions of individuals and stretch over tens of kilometres of ocean.

That’s a lot of jellyfish. Enough, in fact, to clog seawater intake valves for nuclear power plants, as happened in Sweden in 2013, with similar instances reported in the U.S., Japan and other parts of Europe.

Aquaculture will suffer also. A jellyfish swarm was blamed for the deaths of 300,000 farmed salmon off the coast of Scotland a few years ago, and in the 1990s the invertebrates took a bite out of the Black Sea fishing industry, according to Mother Jones.

And as for their horrid stings, it’s not just the harmless variety that are thriving. Some species in Australia and the Philippines can kill a swimmer in minutes, or cause hours of writhing pain, and they’re loving the warmer waters as much as their nuisance cousins elsewhere.

SOURCES: Notre Dame University | Scientific American | The Independent | CTV News | EPA | Natural Resources Canada | Canadian Press

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