The appetite of insects holds the key to protecting future food sources, says a new study by Aberdeen University.
The study has found that much like humans, insects will change their diet to try new things depending on where they are.
The discovery, led by Dr Lesley Lancaster, could have a serious impact on crops as global warming causes insects to colonise new regions.
In Nature Ecology & Evolution, where the study was published, it has been suggested that warming climates are driving the bugs into cooler, high latitude areas and as such they are forced to switch up what they eat.
Dr Lancaster looked at butterflies and moths to examine their feeding patterns.
She said: “As global warming events drive species out of the tropics and to cooler, temperate locations, they are often forced to expand or switch up what they eat. This is because their habitual food sources may be less readily available or more difficult to find during the move.
“Typically ecologists have thought that latitudinal patterns of diet breadth reflect climatic or diversity differences between tropical and temperate regions in climate or species composition – however there was no strong reason why cooler climates or lower species numbers in temperate habitats would lead an individual to eat more, different kinds of things.
“This new explanation is more intuitively appealing because many people will have had the experience of trying new things or adding different types of food to their diet when they move to a new place. Why should animals be any different?”
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Evening Express newsletter
The impact of this could see species attacking new crop varieties or spreading diseases.
Dr Lancaster added: “The results suggest that we can expect these species to attack new crop varieties or spread diseases among a wider variety of hosts in the new region than they have historically targeted. This has important implications for predicting future economic or health consequences of invading pests.”
With many species currently expanding their ranges due to global warming, the study suggests that as insects expand their populations we should also anticipate and plan for changes to the food they consume.
“We have provided evidence that we can expect these (geographically) expanding populations to also expand their resource use patterns as they shift poleward.”
“For instance, poleward expanding crop pests might target a wider range of crops, and disease vectors might transfer pathogens among a wider range of host species, as they expand their geographic ranges under global warming.
“It is important that we anticipate such changes in host use among expanding pests and disease vectors, and the appropriate steps to monitor and protect new hosts if we are to protect our future food security.”