Researchers are investigating for the first time on a global scale how plant groups are interacting with climate change
Plant species with short generations are more sensitive to climate change than those with long generations. This is one of the results of a combination study conducted by researchers from the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ). The international team has compiled comprehensively available data around the world, mostly from Europe and North America, to address the issue of how plant groups interact with climate change. The study published in Nature Communications, Demonstrates that plant characteristics such as breeding time can predict the sensitivity of a species to climate change. This has important implications for predicting which plant species will need the most conservation attention in relation to climate change.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to plant species diversity. To set the right priorities in nature conservation policy, it is crucial to know the regions of the world and the species that are particularly threatened by climate change.
As part of the iDiv sDiv Synthesis Center, which brings international experts together in workshops, a working group has compiled all long-term studies on plants that determine the rate of population growth. They assessed how climatic factors during those years of the study, in particular rainfall and temperature, affected the rate of population growth. Next, they examined how traits of plant species, such as generation length, affect how plant population growth rates have responded to climate change in the past.
“We have been able to show that generation duration is a useful index value of a species’ susceptibility to climate change,” said first author Dr. Aldo Compagnoni, a postdoctoral researcher at iDiv and MLU. For example, scientists have found that plants with particularly short lifespans, such as those that only live a few years on average, have suffered from harsh climatic conditions far worse than long-lived species. Analyzes have also shown that the main determinant of climate change is not the increase in temperature itself. On average, precipitation had a three times greater effect on plant groups than temperature.
Professor Tiffany Knight, recent author of iDiv, MLU and UFZ says, “This work helps us identify species that may be vulnerable to climate impacts, even if we have limited information on those species.” ‘For example, while we have long-term population data for a small subset of plant species on Earth, we can estimate the approximate generation duration for most plant species. This is an important first step towards determining the vulnerability of species to climate change on a global scale. ”
However, there are important data gaps that limit the ability to make general forecasts on a global scale. The researchers found long-term data sets suitable only for 62 of the 350,000 plant species on Earth, with the vast majority of these species found in temperate regions of the USA and Western Europe. Aside from a few tree and shrub species, only herbs and herbs were included in the dataset. The researchers concluded that in order to be able to make reliable predictions about the consequences of climate change on all regions of the world and all known species, new research in population ecology on woody plant species and on plants in the tropics is needed.
This research was, among other things, supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; FZT-118). It is a product of the sDiv sAPROPOS workgroup. IDiv’s sDiv Synthesis Center supports working group meetings where international scholars work together on scientific issues.
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