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Food System Impacts of Pests & Pathogens in a Changing Climate

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Session Description: 

Empirical studies show that unabated warming will lead to significant declines in crop yields by the mid-21st century, and that the most serious agricultural impacts will occur in the tropics where the majority of the world’s food insecure population resides. Recent research also points to dramatic increases in grain yield variability from one year to the next, and the likelihood of simultaneous production shocks across multiple high-producing regions, potentially leading to food price hikes and global shortages. The impact of climate change on crop yield variability is particularly serious for low-income populations that spend a large share of their incomes on food.

Crop yield variability is linked directly to climate through changes in temperature and precipitation, and indirectly through climate effects on pests and pathogens. Using models of insect population growth and metabolism in a warming climate, a recent study by the co-chairs published in Science, predicts substantially increased losses of major food crops to insect pests, especially in temperate-zone climates that currently produce large volumes of the world’s internationally traded food. This study garnered a great deal of media attention, mainly because the connection between climate change and pests/pathogens has not been well quantified to date.

Our objective in this workshop is to generate new fields of empirical research on methods and societal impacts by extending our work on pests and pathogens along the following possible lines:

Explore a wide range of pests and pathogens (e.g., insects, weeds, fungi, diseases) that are predicted to become most problematic to global food crop and aquaculture production under conditions of climate change.

Explore pest-predator dynamics associated with climate change.

Explore different methods of measuring food system impacts from pests and pathogens, including model, experimental, and other empirical approaches.

Explore the management implications of increased pest and pathogen loads, and the related impacts of these strategies on societal health. Management includes the use of pesticides, agronomic and agro-ecological approaches, and genetic host-plant resistance techniques.

The workshop will encompass general discussions on these topics as well as more focused discussions around particular case examples. These examples might include:

Wheat rust

Aflatoxin in African maize and groundnuts

Salmon aquaculture diseases

Insect and weed pressures on major crops (specific examples TBD)

African armyworm invasion

We anticipate that our workshop could go in a few, complementary directions in terms of research discussions, modeling approaches, and outreach. For example, we will likely discuss:

Generation of the basic research needed to track changes in pests/pathogen epidemics due to a changing climate over the last 50 years

Modeling tools for predicting future pest-pathogen-predator interactions in managed and natural ecosystems, and their implications for food security, human health, and environmental sustainability.

Available and future genetic strategies that can be generated/tested to mitigate specific current and predicted pest/pathogen outbreaks.

Ethical dimensions of management strategies, including the use of pesticides and genetic techniques such as CRISPR or other genetic engineering approaches.

Policy approaches for addressing pest and pathogen threats to managed and natural ecosystems.