Rising temperatures may safeguard crop nutrition as climate changes

January 22, 2019, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Soybeans grow under heaters used to mimic futuristic conditions. Their seeds suggest that rising temperatures may actually improve nutrition but decrease yields, according to a new study. Credit: Claire Benjamin/RIPE Project

Recent research has shown that rising carbon dioxide levels will likely boost yields, but at the cost of nutrition. A new study in Plant Journal from the University of Illinois, U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), and Donald Danforth Plant Science Center suggests that this is an incomplete picture of the complex environmental interactions that will affect crops in the future—and rising temperatures may actually benefit nutrition but at the expense of lower yields.

Two years of field trials show that increasing temperatures by about 3 degrees Celcius may help preserve , offsetting the effects of carbon dioxide that make food less nutritious. In soybeans, elevated carbon dioxide levels decreased the amount of iron and zinc in the seed by about 8 to 9 percent, but increased temperatures had the opposite effect.

"Iron and zinc are essential for both plant and human health," said Ivan Baxter, a principal investigator at the Danforth Center. "Plants have multiple processes that affect the accumulation of these elements in the seeds, and can influence these processes in different ways, making it very hard to predict how our changing climate will affect our food."

"This study shows that a trade-off between optimizing yields for and seed nutritional quality may exist," said co-principal investigator Carl Bernacchi, a scientist at the USDA-ARS, which funded the research along with the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Soybeans that were grown under heaters used to mimic futuristic conditions suggest that rising temperatures may actually improve seed quality but decrease yields, according to a new study. Credit: Claire Benjamin/RIPE Project

The team tested the soybeans in real-world field conditions at the Soybean Free-Air Concentration Experiment (SoyFACE), an agricultural research facility at Illinois that is equipped to artificially increase carbon dioxide and temperature to futuristic levels.

"It's a very controlled way of altering the growing environment of crops in agronomically relevant situations where the are planted and managed exactly like other fields in the Midwestern United States," Bernacchi said, who is also an assistant professor of plant biology and crop sciences at Illinois' Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

Next, they plan to design experiments to figure out the mechanisms responsible for this effect.

Researcher Carl Bernacchi sets up heaters that mimic futuristic field conditions at the University of Illinois. Two years of soybean field trials show that increasing temperatures by about 3 degrees Celcius may safeguard seed nutrition even as carbon dioxide levels rise. Credit: Claire Benjamin/RIPE Project

Explore further: Modified soybeans yield more in future climate conditions

More information: Iris H. Köhler et al, Increased temperatures may safeguard the nutritional quality of crops under future elevated CO2 concentrations, The Plant Journal (2018). DOI: 10.1111/tpj.14166

Related Stories

Modified soybeans yield more in future climate conditions

May 3, 2017

By 2050, we will need to feed 2 billion more people on less land. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels are predicted to hit 600 parts per million—a 150% increase over today's levels—and 2050 temperatures are expected to frequently ...

Back-to-the-future plants give climate change insights

November 13, 2018

If you were to take a seed and zap it into the future to see how it will respond to climate change, how realistic might that prediction be? After all, seeds that actually grow in the future will have gone through generations ...

Soybean plants with fewer leaves yield more

November 18, 2016

Using computer model simulations, scientists have predicted that modern soybean crops produce more leaves than they need to the detriment of yield—a problem made worse by rising atmospheric carbon dioxide. They tested their ...

Scientists debunk potential link to crop cold tolerance

November 12, 2018

When temperatures drop, the enzyme Rubisco that fuels plant growth and yield gets sluggish. Many crops compensate by producing more Rubisco; however, scientists speculated that some crops may lack space in their leaves to ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

0 comments

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

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.