Fly population set to explode as Britain warms

Forget flippant talk of vineyards and sunbathing, what climate change really means for the UK is a plague of flies.

A plague on thee: flies look set to flourish as the climate changes

A plague on thee: flies look set to flourish as the climate changes

Ecologists have warned that while climate change might prove problematic for Britain's human population for flies it is all good news.

If current predictions of a 5°C rise in temperature over the next 75 years, then fly populations could increase fivefold as they fail to feel the bite of the traditional British winter.

Writing in a climate change issue of the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology, Dave Goulson and colleagues from the University of Southampton suggest that house fly numbers are ripe to explode.

"The annoyance and public health risks associated with large populations of flies are considerable, and potential increases in their abundance as a result of climate change are a cause for concern," said Dr Goulson.

Goulson and his team measured populations in Hampshire over four years, setting fly traps at various locations including near landfills.

During that period they caught more than 100,000 flies and discovered that variations in populations were closely linked to the weather and even the slightest changes could have a significant impact.

Quite apart from the annoyance factor of more flies buzzing around, the discovery raises important concerns over the potential for increased disease in the UK.

The data could also be applied to help landfills reduce the amount of pesticides they use, as it shows less could be needed on colder, wetter days.

While evidence mounts for the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, this special issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology illustrates the need for more research into how best to cope with climate change.

"While climate change impacts may be severe, they are often exacerbated by current management practices, such as the construction of sea defences, flood management and fire exclusion," said Dr Philip Hulme of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Banchory in the journal's editorial.

"In many cases, adaptation approaches geared to safeguard economic interests run contrary to options for biodiversity conservation.

"There is a need to ensure that environmental and conservation policies not only address climate change but are sufficiently flexible to respond to rapid ecosystem alteration.

"Awareness among policy makers is increasing and hopefully further catastrophes will not be required to catalyse global efforts."

By Sam Bond



Waste & resource management
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