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Climate Change

Climate Change and Caterpillars in Costa Rica

How much can the lowly caterpillar tell us about the world we live in? More than you might imagine.


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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

Some caterpillars can eat up to 27,000 times their body weight in just few weeks. If they become too plentiful, they can wipe out their host plants.

The warmer temperatures and stronger storms expected from climate change could make it impossible for parasitoids to keep caterpillars in check.

To protect the natural world, we need as much information as possible about its organisms and how they interact—and that’s what these scientists are doing with caterpillars and parasitoids.

With the help of Earthwatchers in Costa Rica (and four other sites), they have scoured the forest for thousands of specimens and have logged a wealth of data on how different species relate to one another. This information is a huge benefit to both local communities and other scientists. Say a farmer wants to stop a crop-eating pest like the armyworm (a caterpillar) without chemicals. With data volunteers have helped collect, it’s possible to predict which parasitoids could naturally control which caterpillars.

Caterpillar in Costa Rica

You may find a new species of caterpillar!

But preserving biodiversity is perhaps the most important result. Nature provides crucial services for humans—food, water, income, temperature regulation—that climate change will certainly reshape. The loss of species costs us money, health, and happiness, and diminishes the richness of the world around us.

Help these scientists find out what could be coming by testing what happens when the balance between species is thrown off. In one experiment, scientists and volunteers removed caterpillars completely from a few forest patches. Fifteen months later, those areas had 40% fewer plant species than the surrounding forest. Plants that would have otherwise been controlled by their predators—caterpillars—drove others out of existence.

About the research area

La Selva Biological Station & Tirimbina, Costa Rica, Central America & The Caribbean

Daily life in the field

Itinerary

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The Scientists

MEET THE LEAD SCIENTIST

Lee
Dyer
Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno

ABOUT Lee Dyer

For over two decades, Lee Dyer has scoured the world’s forests for some of their most diverse inhabitants.

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Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food

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