Climate Change Forecasters of the 21st Century: Grasshoppers and Crickets

by Tanya Thomas on Sep 16 2008 9:16 AM

It might be slightly out-of-the-box, nevertheless, it works! Public monitoring system has turned to nature in general and insects in particular for tracking climate change. Quite literally, grasshoppers and bush crickets are going to be the weather forecasters of the future!

According to a report in the Times, there is a now a scheme to record sightings of all 27 native species of grasshoppers and crickets in Britain based on the system that enabled scientists to follow the spread of harlequin ladybirds.

The harlequin, an invasive species that competes with and often eats native ladybirds, arrived from the Continent in 2004 and has spread rapidly.

The public reporting system that was introduced to monitor the ladybird is regarded by researchers as an outstanding success and they now intend to use it to find out how climate change is affecting other insects.

Climate change is driving insects and other creatures to find new places to live as temperatures rise too high for their comfort or make it possible for them to move into a previously unflavored area.

Grasshoppers and crickets are regarded as ideal for the project because they are easily picked out by the public from the huge array of other insects and are among the "most charismatic" of the nation's creepy-crawlies.

Researchers are convinced that once members of the public "get their eye in", they will be able to spot all 27 species, along with a handful of foreign visitors.

Even if telling the difference between a wart-biter bush cricket and the large marsh grasshopper proves too much to manage on a stroll in the countryside, enthusiasts taking part can send photographs for experts to identify.

Grasshoppers and crickets are regarded as valuable indicators of climate change because in many ways, they are more sensitive to it than other insects. Researchers hope to harness public enthusiasm for them to provide a new source of data.

More than 60,000 records of ladybirds were generated by the Harlequin Ladybird Survey, 20,000 of the invasive species and a further 40,000 of native ladybirds.

According to Helen Roy, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, "We now want to expand the system and we've chosen grasshoppers and crickets because they are charismatic and they are showing range expansion already."

"We want to use them in the same way the butterflies have been used to show expansion," she added.

"These insects are the foremost indicators of climate change and are responding dramatically to global warming," said Peter Sutton, a science teacher and an authority on grasshoppers and crickets.

"Temperature increases have allowed them to expand their habitat," he added.