Simulations show Antarctica’s only insect at risk due to global warming
A team of researchers affiliated with a host of institutions in the United States, working with colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey, the Natural Environment Research Council and the University of Johannesburg, have found evidence to suggest that warming temperatures could put the Antarctic midge in danger of extinction. . They published their results in the journal Functional ecology.
There is only one insect native to Antarctica, the tiny Antarctic midge. Gnats are small, two-winged flies that usually live in marshy places. Antarctic midges have lost their ability to fly and have evolved other characteristics for living in a cold environment. Their life cycle is only two years, and most of that time is spent in one of its four larval stages. The larvae live in moist beds of moss or algae and survive by eating surrounding materials. During the coldest parts of winter, when their surroundings freeze, the larvae dry out, allowing their bodies to freeze without harm. Previous research has shown that when temperatures rise again, larvae need high humidity to rehydrate. In this new effort, researchers wondered what would happen to midges as temperatures in Antarctica rise due to global warming. To find out, they traveled to the area and collected samples of larvae.
Testing the larvae in the lab involved placing them in environments that simulated those they currently experience in their homelands and those that would exist if the temperature variably increased. The tests lasted six months, long enough for the larvae to react as they would in the wild.
The researchers found that even small changes in temperature had a dramatic impact on the larvae. The higher the temperature, the fewer the larvae that survive. They also found that energy reserves were affected, resulting in sluggish behavior. The researchers suggest that the behavior they observed suggests that if conditions get much warmer in Antarctica, the midge is unlikely to survive.
A midge can be a source of pesticides currently used for birds, bats
Jack J. Devlin et al, Simulated Winter Warming Negatively Impacts Survival of Antarctica’s Only Endemic Insect, Functional ecology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.14089
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