Hexbyte Glen Cove Rash-causing moth spreading due to warming, scientists find

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This 2017 photo by Holland Haverkamp shows a browntail moth caterpillar in Maine. The caterpillars can cause an itchy rash in humans, and a new study by University of Maine scientists states that their spread appears aided by climate change. Credit: Holland Haverkamp/ University of Maine via AP

A forest pest that bedevils Maine residents and tourists with hairs that cause an itchy rash appears to be spreading due to warming temperatures, a group of scientists has found.

The browntail is a scourge in America’s most forested state, where it defoliates trees and causes a rash in humans that resembles poison ivy. The hairs of the caterpillars, which have been the subject of an outbreak in the state for about seven years, can also cause respiratory trouble.

The growth and spread of the moth is tied to increasingly warm weather, especially in the fall, the scientists wrote recently in the journal Environmental Entomology. And, unfortunately, climate trends suggest upcoming years could be even worse, they wrote.

Warmer fall temperatures are especially beneficial to the pesky bugs because that allows them to get fatter before they hibernate for the winter, said Eleanor Groden, professor emerita of entomology at University of Maine and the principal investigator on the study.

“If they come out of those webs as hearty individuals, older individuals maturity wise, then they are better able to withstand that period and you get higher populations,” Groden said. “And you get defoliation that spring, and populations are raising havoc for anyone who has them in their yards.”

The browntail moth is native to Europe and neighboring countries in Asia and Africa. It was accidentally introduced in Massachusetts in the late 19th century and is now found in coastal Maine and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The caterpillars become active from April to June and have been identified as “an insect of both forest and human health concern” by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

The population of the moths has ebbed and flowed in the decades since it first arrived in Maine in 1904. But the outbreak has been steadily worsening in Maine in recent years, and entomologists said last year was the worst year for browntail moth infestations in state history. The bugs have been growing in both number and territory, as the Maine Forest Service said they’ve spread into northern and western areas of the state in the last two years.

The study found early fall temperatures are a key determinant of population levels the following year, and that “indicate continued increases in fall temperatures” since the moth’s resurgence in the state.

It’s another example of how can aggravate pest problems and jeopardize human health, said David Wagner, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut who was not involved in the study. Climate change has already exacerbated problems with disease-causing pests such as mosquitoes and ticks, he said.

“Climate change appears to be an important driver in this system,” Wagner said. “So this outbreak can continue to increase, and it could come at great expense to land owners and great nuisance for landowners.”

Maine communities have tried numerous strategies to try to slow the spread of the moth, including informing residents about how to safely remove their nests. The Maine Legislature is considering creating a special grant fund to pay for mitigation measures.

They’re a tough species to manage because they’re spreading fast and not native to the ecosystem, Groden said.

“What we are left with is how can we mitigate the localized problem in our yards and public spaces,” she said.

© 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Rash-causing moth spreading due to warming, scientists find (2022, February 27)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove New tool finds the best opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle across industrial sectors thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove New tool finds the best opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle across industrial sectors

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new tool finds hidden connections across industrial sectors and identifies opportunities to reduce waste and lower carbon emissions by mapping the physical economy for a region.

“The climate and the economy are too important for us to make mistakes,” said Shweta Singh, the interdisciplinary scientist at Purdue University who developed the tool. “This tool provides a big-picture view and allows policymakers and industry to plug in a potential change and see the results. Those involved can virtually test different options before making a decision.”

Past zero-waste and low-carbon efforts focused on one portion of industrial flow, for example, reducing energy use in a single production process. However, a view of the whole system is needed to make the best choices and most effective investments in emerging technology for overall improvement, she said.

“The approach is like the human genome project, but for the physical economy—mapping the relationship between industry and the environment,” said Singh, who holds appointments as an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering in the College of Agriculture and environmental and ecological engineering in the College of Engineering. “It allows us to find and understand connections within the whole system. We needed the human genome project—the complete map—to begin to identify the genes key to disease or health, and we need a complete map of the physical economy to identify what changes are key to achieving sustainability.”

The theory behind the model is detailed in a paper in the journal Energy & Environmental Science of The Royal Society of Chemistry. A paper focused on the cloud platform tool will be published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

The tool uses physical principles and mechanistic models from physics, engineering and biological sciences to automate mapping of the physical economy, and it is much faster than the standard methods, Singh said.

“With this modeling tool, we can do in one day what would have taken 100 days,” she said. “The existing mapping methods were tedious and time-consuming. By looking at each economic sector as a process—taking resources through physical changes to create a product—we can use existing mechanistic models to map a multiscale view of the physical economy. With that in place we can make changes and see the cascade of events from the process to sector to whole economy.”

Singh used the tool to map the physical economy of Illinois for 10 agro-based sectors from farming to downstream processing of products. The model found connections and highlighted opportunities for large-scale recycling to reduce waste. The results showed that the adoption of technologies for industrial wastewater and hog manure recycling would have the highest impact by reducing more than 62% of hog waste outputs, 96% of dry corn milling waste, and 99% of soybean hull waste.

Fast, automated modeling of the physical economy gives users a test-run of steps to sustainability

“We also found indirect connections, for example recycling hog farm waste led to reduced emissions down the line in manufacturing,” Singh said. “In the supply chain, experts talk about first, second- and third-order impacts. Third-order impacts may not be obvious, but they can really have an impact. Here it becomes transparent, and we can identify that third-order impact very quickly.”

Singh credits a diverse academic background in sparking the idea for the model.

“I always had an interest in various disciplines,” she said. “My friends joked I had taken a class in every building on campus. I actually began my studies in chemical engineering, which takes a very close look at the flow of a chemical reaction and the byproducts created. Then, while studying assessment for industrial systems, I broadened my scope to macroeconomic framework. It led me to wonder why there wasn’t more communication and crossover between the disciplines. In this model, I try to bring all of these things together, connecting process engineering with economic modeling.”

Singh also credits the interdisciplinary background of Venkata Sai Gargeya Vunnava, the graduate student who collaborated on the project.

“Thinking about the challenge without being mentally stuck in a single academic discipline led to this innovation,” Singh said. “We must be open to learning anything from anywhere.”

Singh disclosed the modeling tool to the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization, which has applied for patent protection on the intellectual property.

More information:
Venkata Sai Gargeya Vunnava et al, Integrated mechanistic engineering models and macroeconomic input–output approach to model physical economy for evaluating the impact of transition to a circular economy, Energy & Environmental Science (2021). DOI: 10.1039/D1EE00544H

New tool finds the best opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle across industrial sectors (2021, September 27)
retrieved 28 September 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-09-tool-opportunities-reuse-recycle-industrial.html

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