The Spread of Disease & Pests from Climate Change
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) released a new report this month (They Came from Climate Change, April 2010) profiling 7 species that will expand their range, numbers or increase toxicity due to warmer weather and seasonal shifts from climate change. In the satirically presented report (terrifically bad 1950s horror film theme), NWF presents the realities of a changing climate by highlighting deer tick, poison ivy, fire ant, Asian Tiger Mosquito, Cheatgrass, Salt Cedar and Pine Bark Beetle.
Below are some quick facts from the report on the profiled pests and invasive species.
- Deer Tick: Warmer winters will enable this pest to expand its range by 68% in North America by later this century. This pest is known for carrying Lyme disease which can cause a variety of problematic symptoms for humans, from fever and headaches, to chronic impacts on the joints and central nervous system. In rare instances, Lyme disease can be deadly.
- Poison Ivy: Increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have been shown to make poison ivy more toxic by enabling the plant to generate a more allergic form of urushiol, the substance responsible for the itchy response. Additionally, CO2 will likely cause the vines to grow faster, providing more opportunities for human contact.
- Fire Ant: These ants can be deadly to wildlife and can generate unpleasant burning and blistering on human skin when attacked by these ants in large numbers. Fire ants are making their way northward as climate change provides more suitable habitat.
- Asian Tiger Mosquito: These mosquitoes are known to transmit more than 30 different viruses. A few of these affect humans such as West Nile, eastern equine encephalitis and dengue. A warmer climate helps tropical diseases survive such as dengue. “Scientists project that within this century about 35 percent of the global population could be at risk of dengue transmission, but this increases to 50-60 percent when global warming is taken into account.”
- Cheatgrass: This weed, accidentally introduced by Europeans in the 1800s, is taking over sagebrush habitat from Nevada to Montana. Cheatgrass burns easily, helping to fuel fires across the West. A warming climate and an increase in wildfires spread the range of this invasive.
- Salt Cedar: Salt Cedar thrives in a hot environment and out-competes other native plants for scarce water. This invasive is known for water hogging, lowering water tables, and drying up springs essential for sustaining other wildlife. In the future, areas of California, Oregon, eastern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Arkansas will contain better conditions for the invasive.
- Pine Bark Beetle: Across the Western U.S., the population of this beetle has exploded due to the lack of cold winter weather. Bark beetles carry a fungus, killing the trees. Climate change is generating a mortality rate far beyond the usual death rate. Millions of acres of forests have been killed, destroying valuable forest products and generating kindling for large forest fires.