Science & Tech
Global warming's beneficiaries: Rat snakes, bark beetles, mosquitos and disease
Record-breaking cold gripped the East Coast for most of the winter months. The rest of the country experienced unseasonably warm weather spikes and early tornadoes, while Australia suffered from wildfires and another 1,000 year flood.
Climate change has scientists studying how changing patterns are going to impact people, wildlife and biodiversity. Many species, like the American Pica, a small alpine mammal highly vulnerable to warmer temperatures, are predicted to face possible extinction from global warming. But other creatures and some insects are already adapting and doing quite well in a warming world.
Bark beetles thrive in higher temperatures.
A report referenced in Science Daily explains that throngs of bark beetles have bored their way through more than 6 billion trees in the western US and British Columbia since the 1990s. Populations of the destructive tree-killers have increased to epidemic proportions in a warmer climate and dead trees have fueled progressively more wildfires each year throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
However, scientists have discovered that one of the most dangerous ramifications of beetle-infested trees is that they inject 20 times more volatile organic compounds into the air than healthy trees. Beetles bore holes for the purpose of laying their eggs and the tree’s natural defense system releases the unhealthy and pollution-causing chemicals.
Increasing floods combined with warmer weather will increase mosquito-borne diseases.
According to a study done at Yale School of Public Health, global warming may increase the infection rates of mosquito-borne diseases by creating a more mosquito-friendly habitat. Warming weather and more historic floods, heavy rainfall and superstorms are likely to increase rates of malaria, Lyme disease, Tuberculosis and dengue, a debilitating viral disease found in tropical areas and transmitted by mosquito bites.
“The environmental changes wrought by global warming will undoubtedly result in major ecologic changes that will alter patterns and intensity of some infectious diseases,” said Gerald Friedland, professor of medicine and epidemiology and public health at the Yale School of Medicine.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency states that disease-causing pathogens are transmitted through animals like deer, birds, rodents and insects and that climate change may be altering the natural habits of such transmitters. A hotter, steamier planet is certain to allow diseases to proliferate in response to changes in water levels, heat and air quality. Gastrointestinal distress will take on a whole new level.
Hotter temperatures could force rat snakes to become night stalkers.
Snakes are ectotherms, meaning that a snake’s body temperature is regulated by its environment.
A study by scientists at University of Illinois found that rat snakes appear to be increasingly active at night to avoid blazing daytime temperatures. In future years, such a change may cause an explosion in their population because they will be less vulnerable to their natural predators, which are hawks and small carnivores.
Rat snakes were chosen for the study, because they have a broad geographical range and there are numerous subspecies of the non-venomous reptile.
The study showed that rat snakes in Canada, Illinois and Texas would all benefit from global warming. “It would actually make the environment thermally better for them,” said lead researcher, Patrick Weatherhead.
Scientists concede that more research will be done on how climate change will impact people, pathogens and wildlife.
Nonetheless, it appears that mankind’s existence on a warming planet will be plagued with increased gastrointestinal disease, thriving insects and prolific reptiles along with a yearly onslaught of devastating climate events.
No word yet on how heat will benefit fire ants, cockroaches and termites.
Jean Williams, environmental and political journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.***PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.