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Predicting insects' response to climate change

Griffith Observaory and downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Steve Boland

Concept: Scientific knowledge informs public policies and regulations that promote our health, safety, and environmental stewardship.

Paleontologist Anna Holden's work on the insects of the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits suggests that the climate of this region has changed very little for the past 50,000 years. As she explains, this has important implications for predicting how insects in the region might respond to the human-caused climate change going on today:

Many insects have tight climate restrictions. And based on my research, we might hypothesize that insects of the Los Angeles Basin are particularly tightly adapted to the local environment because it has remained unchanged for so long. These insects might be unusually vulnerable to climate change. Especially given that they are already losing territory because of agriculture and urban development, we could completely wipe them out. Many of them have already been extirpated from their natural environments. This is a problem that could easily worsen without a better understanding of these ecosystems and how to protect them! Insects perform vital ecological roles, like pollination, are an important food source, and in some cases control pest populations. So, if those insects become extinct, then you could cause a whole chain of reactions — a big domino effect that would endanger vital ecosystems. In order for us to understand the vulnerabilities in ecosystems today and how we can craft policies to protect them, we need to first understand how they functioned under natural changes.

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