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Pests and Pathogens


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As the Earth's temperature continues to rise, it is having a significant impact on the world around us. One of the lesser-known effects of climate change is the disruption of the life cycle of insects and pathogens. In this article, we will explore the ways in which climate change is affecting these species and what this means for the future.

The Role of Temperature

Temperature plays a vital role in the life cycle of insects and pathogens. For example, many insects require specific temperatures to develop properly. A slight increase or decrease in temperature can have a significant impact on their development, reproduction, and survival. Similarly, pathogens also have specific temperature requirements to thrive and reproduce.

Changes in Phenology

Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events, such as when plants bloom or when insects emerge from hibernation. Climate change is causing significant changes in phenology, which is affecting the life cycle of insects and pathogens. For example, some insects are emerging from hibernation earlier than usual, which is disrupting their natural life cycle. This can have a knock-on effect on other species that rely on them for food.

Range Shifts

Climate change is also causing changes in the range of many species, including insects and pathogens. As temperatures rise, some species are moving further north, seeking cooler temperatures. This can lead to new species interactions and potential new diseases. It also means that some species may no longer be able to survive in their current range, leading to population declines.

Impacts on Agriculture

Insects and pathogens play a crucial role in agriculture. They can help pollinate crops or act as natural pest control. However, climate change is disrupting this delicate balance. For example, changes in phenology mean that some pollinators may not be present when crops need them, leading to lower yields. Additionally, changes in range mean that new pests or diseases may appear, which can have devastating consequences for farmers.


While the impact of climate change on insect and pathogen life cycles may seem overwhelming, there are things we can do to mitigate the effects. One approach is to use biological controls, such as introducing natural predators to control pest populations. Another approach is to use crop rotation, which can help prevent the buildup of pest populations.

Additionally, reducing our carbon footprint and taking steps to slow down climate change can help reduce the impact on these species. This means reducing our use of fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy sources.


In conclusion, climate change is having a significant impact on the life cycle of insects and pathogens. Rising temperatures, changes in phenology, range shifts, and impacts on agriculture are all contributing to this disruption. However, there are things we can do to mitigate the effects, such as using biological controls and reducing our carbon footprint. It is up to us to take action now to protect these species and ensure a healthy planet for future generations.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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