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Just because these bugs live in the tropics, doesn't mean they do well in the heat

A woman in waders balances on rocks in a stream while using a net to dip into the water
Courtesy photo
Alisha Shah
Shah uses a net to collect insects in a stream in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

An ecologist with the Kellogg Biological Station has found insects in tropical regions may do worse as the planet warms than bugs in temperate zones.

Some tropical bugs may take climate change harder than insects in temperate zones, which are areas where the temperature varies throughout the year. That surprising finding came out of research by ecologist Alisha Shah. She’s based at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners, and will present her findings in a "Dessert with Discussion" event at the KBS Tuesday at 6:30 pm.

The talk will also be livestreamed on Zoom.

Shah spent about five years studying insects, particularly aquatic insects, in Ecuador and Colorado. She found the bugs in hot, tropical areas had a smaller range than the temperate-dwelling insects, of temperatures at which they could function.

“Those insects are going to have a much harder time dealing with warming in their streams, just because they’re not adapted as far as we can tell to these sort of changing conditions,” she said.

Scientists know surprisingly little about the heat and cold tolerances of insects, especially tropical ones, Shah added. She said her long-term study was some of the first work that’s been done on how tropical bugs bear the heat.

“We unfortunately have a long way to go and we’re racing against time,” she said, “because the climate is changing quickly in many of these regions and we’re still working out the basics.”

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.