A tea green leafhopper on the underside of a tea leaf

Can a leafhopper rescue tea from climate change?


When insect herbivores feed on agricultural crops, they are labeled as destructive “pests”. In addition to decreasing crop yields, feeding by insects causes plants to defend themselves by producing secondary metabolites, many of which are important for flavor and aroma of our foods. Tea farmers in Taiwan began taking advantage of this phenomenon in the 1930s to produce a high quality tea called “Eastern Beauty Oolong” which can only be made from tea plants infested with the tea green leafhopper (Empoasca onukii). However, as the climate changes, the abundance of agricultural pests is expected to increase, which could threaten this innovative style of tea through changes in tea plant chemistry as leafhopper damage increases.