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Locust Swarms Could Expand Their Range in a Hotter, Stormier World

WorldLocust Swarms Could Expand Their Range in a Hotter, Stormier World

Rising temperatures could expand the area of the globe under threat from crop-devouring locusts by up to 25 percent in the coming decades, a new study found, as more places experience the cycles of drought and torrential rain that give rise to biblical swarms of the insects.

Desert locusts for millenniums have been the scourge of farmers across northern Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. They love hot, dry conditions, but they need the occasional downpour to moisten the soil in which they incubate their eggs.

Human-caused warming is heating up the locusts’ home turf and intensifying sporadic rains there. That is exposing new parts of the region to potential infestations, according to the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

“Given that these countries often serve as global breadbaskets and are already grappling with climate-driven extremes like droughts, floods and heat waves, the potential escalation of locust risks in these regions could exacerbate existing challenges,” said Xiaogang He, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the National University of Singapore.

Other scientists cautioned, however, that climate change is also affecting locust threats in another important way. When they are not gathering by the tens of millions and laying waste to whole landscapes, these insects lead meek, solitary lives in arid zones. As the planet warms, some of these areas could become too hot and dry even for the locusts, leaving smaller territories in which they can multiply and congregate.

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