Wild grass species found unable to adapt rapidly enough to survive global warming

grass

(Phys.org)—A trio of researchers with the University of Arizona has found evidence that suggests many wild grass species will be at risk of disappearing from certain areas as the planet heats up. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, Alice Cang, Ashley Wilson and John Wiens describe the study they carried out on the speed with which wild grass species can adapt to change, what they found and what it might mean for the future of many important crops.

As the planet warms, many native plant communities will be forced to either adapt or migrate to prevent dying off. In this new effort, the researchers looked at many wild grasses that are related to modern crops, such as wheat and rice, and what their chances are of surviving the kind of temperature increases that have been predicted over the next several decades.

More specifically, they looked at prior research done on 236 grass types, noting specifically an ability to adapt to a new niche, then compared the rates they found with temperature increases expected in the places where they now exist up to the year 2070. Alarmingly, they found that on average, global warming is expected to occur approximately 5,000 times faster than the average wild grass community is able to adapt. They noted also that slowly migrating to new places likely will not be an option for most of the grass species studied due to a variety of factors, ranging from limited seed dispersal to geographic obstructions such as mountains, bodies of water or human communities.

Overall, the researchers conclude that past rates of change for niche grasses occurred more slowly than is predicted for environmental changes in the near future, indicating that local extinctions are likely.

The researchers note that the related species humans use as crop foods will not be immune to the same temperature increases, but it is assumed humans will intervene to begin farming in places with more favorable conditions. But there is another problem: Wild grass relatives are still used to improve the crops we grow—they are bred with current crop species to add desired features such as an ability to produce even under drier conditions or to offer a better chance at fighting certain diseases.


Explore further

Barley crops affected by disease found on common wild grass

More information: F. Alice Cang et al. Climate change is projected to outpace rates of niche change in grasses, Biology Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0368

Abstract
Climate change may soon threaten much of global biodiversity, especially if species cannot adapt to changing climatic conditions quickly enough. A critical question is how quickly climatic niches change, and if this speed is sufficient to prevent extinction as climates warm. Here, we address this question in the grass family (Poaceae). Grasses are fundamental to one of Earth's most widespread biomes (grasslands), and provide roughly half of all calories consumed by humans (including wheat, rice, corn and sorghum). We estimate rates of climatic niche change in 236 species and compare these with rates of projected climate change by 2070. Our results show that projected climate change is consistently faster than rates of niche change in grasses, typically by more than 5000-fold for temperature-related variables. Although these results do not show directly what will happen under global warming, they have troubling implications for a major biome and for human food resources.

Journal information: Biology Letters

© 2016 Phys.org

Citation: Wild grass species found unable to adapt rapidly enough to survive global warming (2016, September 29) retrieved 22 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-09-wild-grass-species-unable-rapidly.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
11 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 29, 2016
Well the good news is that most of you will not have to be subject to dissenting opinions much longer as the US Traitor In Chief hands over control of the internet to the UN!!!

Sep 30, 2016
Although I have no doubt that global warming is a problem that needs to be dealt with, I see no problem with some boring grass species going locally extinct from global warming; so what? The extinct species of grass would simply be replaced by more adaptable species of grass or, if not, some more adaptable non-grass species; problem solved!

As for "the future of many important crops", farmers aren't completely stupid and they will inevitably simply switch to sowing crop varieties that are more adapted to the warmer conditions. A much more rational concern is the effect of the greater frequency of hurricanes, droughts and floods etc from global warming that would occasionally devastate crops and impact on food security and which might even sometimes trigger famine; so just forget about a few boring wild grass species! That should be the least of your concerns here!

Sep 30, 2016
Apparently some are not educated in the interdependence of living species.

We need better education, and the care of our Life-Support System should be in it.

Sep 30, 2016
We have perturbed an interacting set of complex phenomena, and are driving it out of its normal Stable State. When it once again reaches equilibrium, it may not be to our liking, . . or ability to endure.

Sep 30, 2016
Good for you BBB. It appears that you have acclimated much better than expected to your brainwashing.

Oct 03, 2016
No... grass has never evolved between glaciations, or between interglacials.

in your fervent belief that pissing into the wind changes the climate, you people ask too much to be believed

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more