Distinctly Montana Magazine

Distinctly Montana Fall 2017

Distinctly Montana Magazine

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D I S T I N C T LY M O N TA N A • FA L L 2 0 1 7 62 M O N TA N A i n 3 yea rs INSECTS BEFORE WE START, WOULD YOU TELL US JUST WHAT QUALIFIES AS AN INSECT? IS IT EVERYTHING CREEPY-CRAWLY, ARE THEY THE SAME AS BUGS…OR CAN YOU GIVE US A GOOD DEFINITION? Insects are definitely not the only "creepy-crawly" animals out there. Insects are animals that, as adults, have three main body parts (a head, thorax, and abdomen) and six legs. ey also have what's known as an exoskeleton, which essentially is a skeleton on the outside of the body. ese simple features have resulted in insects being the most successful organ- isms on earth, both in terms of numbers of individuals and numbers of species. In fact, two out of every three species are insects. ere are more than one million insect species that have been described and there are likely at least another three million insects that have yet to be discovered and described. A typical acre of land in Montana has about one million ants. I always say the meek won't inherit the earth—insects will. WE ARE GUESSING THAT CLIMATE CHANGE WILL HAVE A LOT TO DO WITH INSECT LIFE IN 2047. WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE IMPACT ON MONTANA IN GENERAL? Like everything else, insects will be affected by warming trends and altered precipitation patterns. Unlike warm-blooded animals like us humans, the speed of insect development is largely based on ambient temperature, so warming trends will directly affect their development. Because there are so many species of insects, and most haven't been studied at all, we really can't make any generalizations about all insects. However, we do know that the ranges of some well-known pests, such as mosquitoes and ticks, are expanding in Montana because of milder winters and hotter summers. We also know that ranges and populations for some beneficial species, such as some bumble bees, are shrinking because of temperature and precipitation changes. Some insects will adapt to these changes over the next thirty years and others won't. We will surely see shifts in species and population numbers. One thing is certain for Montana: Issues surrounding insects will only increase in importance. Between now and 2047, we will undoubtedly have new, invasive insect species entering the state and causing significant problems for our environ- ment and economy. Warming trends and precipitation patterns will no doubt exacerbate these problems. WHAT BIOTIC (LIVING) AND ABIOTIC (NON-LIVING) FACTORS WILL MOST INFLUENCE INSECT POPULATIONS INTO THE FUTURE. In temperate areas like Montana, abiotic factors play a huge role in influencing insect populations. Large tem- perature swings and atypical heavy rain, hail, and snow in spring and summer can decimate developing populations of some insects, especially those living on plants. Fortunately, most insects can rebound relatively quickly from these weather events. However, some insects might have a tougher time rebounding if these events increase in frequency over the next 30 years. Biotic factors also play a large role in influencing insect populations. e most important predators and parasites of insects are other insects. WHAT SCIENTIFIC INNOVATIONS ARE LIKELY TO BE CRITICAL FOR MANAGING INSECT POPULATIONS AND OUTBREAKS? Critical innovations will continue to address management tactics that focus on specific pest species. We have evolved from technologies, like broad-spectrum insecticides, that do not discriminate between insects to new prod- ucts and approaches that can focus like a laser on a single pest species, thus minimizing effects on what we call "non- target species." Despite new technologies, there is no "silver bullet" for insect pest management. We must continue to manage pest species within the ecosystems in which they (and we) live. at will require approaches to ensure long-term sustainable management that avoids the evolution of resistance by the pests to specific tactics. THE RANGES OF SOME WELL-KNOWN PESTS, SUCH AS MOSQUITOES AND TICKS, ARE EXPANDING IN MONTANA BECAUSE OF MILDER WINTERS AND HOTTER SUMMERS. Bombus sylvicola is a bumblebee. PHOTOS BY DR. ROBERT PETERSON

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