The trend towards a warmer climate is dramatically altering the biological responses of aphids and their impact on tillage crops, according to the results of long-term trials carried out by scientists at Rothamsted Research in the UK

Aphids, sometimes also known as greenfly or blackfly, are important pests of crops because they cause feeding damage and transmit viruses to plants. The first flights of all 55 aphid species studied were found to be occurring earlier and 85% of aphids showed increased duration of their flight season. Importantly, the seasonal timing of these migrations was shown to be statistically linked to a changing temperature, an indication of the impact of a changing climate on pests.

Dr James Bell, who led the research, confirmed that the power of the new generation of statistical models means that scientists now have a deep insight into aphid populations on a grand scale.

“We have been able to study nearly 12m aphids across 55 species in order to get a general pattern of their migration,” he said.

“These latest Rothamsted  results demonstrate the value of datasets gathered using a standardised methodology over a long time period. The researchers also made an assessment of how many aphid species have been recorded by the survey to date and also examined the probability of recording new species into the network. From the known records of aphid fauna, 81.5% of species have been recorded.

Dr Bell emphasised how he and his colleagues are particularly keen to identify species of economic concern to tillage and agricultural production.

“The suction trap network is a valuable tool for monitoring invasive species and currently on average the network detects new aphid migrant to the UK every year, but there have been times when five new aphids have been recorded in a single year.

“We are also looking out for new aphid species which could have a very deleterious impact on production agriculture.”