Are there any plants that are actually being helped by climate change?



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    Some plants are blooming earlier than before, like columbines and wild geraniums, and others are thriving where they weren’t able to before due to temperature changes. 

  2. 0 Votes

    Interesting question. This is certainly a topic of research that ecologists have been focusing on for the past decade. And quite frankly, in practice nobody knows yet, but I can explain a few of the theoretical concepts at work that might impact plant ecology depending on how local climates change over the coming decades.

    First off, all plants grow better when the air has a higher concentration of carbon dioxide–this has to do with a relic of evolutionary history that is omnipresent in plant biology, an enzyme called rubisco. Rubisco functions in the critical step of photosynthesis to actually fix the carbon dioxide in the air into a 3 or 4 carbon molecule which ultimately becomes glucose. However rubisco evolved during an era when oxygen was not a significant player in the chemical makeup of the atmoshpere, and rubisco actually binds better with oxygen than it does with carbon dioxide. When this happens, plants go into phytorespiration, which is a net drain of their resources and so is not helpful. So, having higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will help plants perform better. 

    In regions where temperatures are expected to rise, this can be a benefit to certain plantlife, but only up to a point, as there is a tradeoff. A longer growing season means that the plants can grow more, particularly perennials that aren’t already locked into a fast growth and seeding cycle. However, higher temperatures also mean higher rates of evaporation and water loss is critical for plant growth because if water stores get too low, they will actually close their pores (called stomata) and stop photosynthesizing.

    Some climate projections suggest that precipitation patterns will be altered, with some regions receiving less total precipitation and other regions receiving more variable precipitation. For the same reasons explained above, changes in water availability can be quite severe for plants that have not evolved for low moisture conditions.

    There is also the question of how changing flowering times will impact pollination success; will pollinaters respond to the environmental cues similarly to the plants they pollinate? If this does not happen, then there could be quite a concern regarding plant reproduction.

    Many of the concerns regarding how plants will respond to climate change are predicated on the notion of timing. Plants can evolve, migrate and adapt, but this process is relatively slow. And so if the climate changes at a rate faster than what the plants can respond to, therein lies the issue. As you may have noticed, this topic has more questions than answers at this point.


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