Climate Change and uh, Hopperburners? – Arriving

A dust devil passes near Dikmetas, Turkey, in September 2014 as thousands of refugees flee

Observers say climate change has destabilized Syria. A dust devil passes near Dikmetas, Turkey, in September 2014 as thousands of refugees flee. Source: John Stanmeyer, National Geographic

The villain: the adult potato leafhopper, a winged, pale, green, wedge-shaped insect about 1/8-inch long. In hopperburn—the yellow, wilted area at the tips of alfalfa leaves, the plant’s characteristic response to leafhopper feeding—entomologists see a kind of climate footprint.

A toxin in the insect’s saliva causes hopperburn. The leafhopper reproduces on over 200 plant species in 25 different families, including alfalfa, potatoes, beans, peanuts, and woody ornamentals. The potato leafhopper feeds on many different crops, causing millions of dollars of damage every year. It migrates to northern climates in spring in high winds. Researchers in Maryland and New York examined six decades of data on leafhopper arrival dates and infestation. They found that the hopperburners are arriving to eastern U.S. farms earlier than in the 1950s, by as much as ten days. That’s roughly a day every six years.

“Prepare for the effects of climate change on migratory pests,” wrote Utah Pests News in the summer of 2015.

Wildfire and War

Due to abundant rain, weeds and wildfires will almost certainly follow, the Southern IPM Center’s Rosemary Hallberg wrote on August 14. Fuel loads had built up to the point where wildfire can travel fast and cross roadways once the kochia weeds and Russian thistle dry out and begin tumbling across the countryside. An eerily similar pattern emerges in the West, where cheat grass has modified hydrological and fire cycles, aiding the weed’s domination in sagebrush ecosystems.

In a study reported in National Geographic, climate change helped spark the Syrian war. A severe drought, worsened by a warming climate, drove Syrian farmers to abandon their crops and head to the cities. Resource shortage led to political unrest, accelerating the collapse of an already unpopular regime.

Doing Something

In February, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which sponsors the Northeastern IPM Center, announced $5 million in funding available for “agricultural and natural resources science for climate variability and change.” The Northeastern IPM Center applied for a grant with the intent to establish a national forum on climate and pests.

In September, the Northeastern IPM Center announced its request for applications for its Partnership Grants, emphasizing its call for projects in its new signature program on climate and pests.

On October 22, 2015, a Google search for “climate change” returned about 102 million results. A search of my personal email from February 2 to September 17—before I began researching the topic—contained 182 messages about climate change. A typical message:

Louisiana State University AgCenter researchers are looking at different aspects of the redbanded stink bug, a major soybean pest. Changes in the state’s climate seem to be causing changes in the population of this insect in Louisiana, LSU entomologist Jeff Davis said.

How can IPM respond to this message and the almost two hundred others like it? That may not be clear, but what we do know is that the redbanded stink bugs—and the hopperburners—are coming.


The Northeastern IPM Center promotes integrated pest management for reducing risks to human health and the environment. If republishing our news, please acknowledge the source (“From Northeast IPM Insights”) along with a link to our website.