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Approximately one third of this leaf was eaten by insects during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum more than 55 million years ago.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of Ellen Currano

Fossils Show that Warming Climate May Mean Insects Will Eat More Plant Leaves
News story originally written on February 11, 2008

More than 55 million years ago, the temperature of the Earth became much warmer because of a rise in the levels of carbon dioxide on the planet. Scientists who have been studying plants from that time have found that the warmer temperatures may have caused insects to eat more plants.

Scientists collected fossils for this study, including more than 5,000 fossil leaves. They collected fossil leaves that were alive before, during, and after a time when the Earth's temperature became very hot. This period was called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

The researchers found that the plants from this period were much more damaged than fossil plants before and after that period. This means that the insects living during that time quickly responded to a major change in the climate. When the temperature became warmer, insects from the tropics migrated north to feed on plants in different areas.

On the Earth today, insects in the tropics eat more plants, and warming temperatures are causing them to widen the range of where they live. As today's temperatures on Earth continue to rise, the researchers believe there could be more damage to crops and forests. What these scientists have learned about climate change in the past will help people prepare for the effects global warming in the future.

Last modified April 29, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

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