Is Climate Changing Too Fast For Grasses That Feed The World?

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Is Climate Changing Too Fast For Grasses That Feed The World?
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Is Climate Changing Too Fast For Grasses That Feed The World? by Daniel Stolte-Arizona

People depend on grass crops for food, but new research raises concerns that if climate changes too fast, grasses won’t adapt fast enough to keep pace.

“Cultivated crops in the grass family account for half of the calories consumed by humans,” says John Wiens, a professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. “For example, wheat, corn, rice, and sorghum are all grasses that together occupy more than half of farmed land worldwide.”

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Grass Crops

“Much of the world is covered by grasses, so this is not a type of landscape where we would want to have large-scale extinctions.”

Comparing past rates of niche change in 236 species of plants in the grass family with projected rates of climatic change by 2070, the team led by Alice Cang and Wiens found that the rate of future climate change may dramatically outpace the capabilities of grasses to change their niches and survive.

In terms of temperature, the discrepancy between past and projected rates often was found to be as high as 5,000-fold. The study is published in Biology Letters.

In addition to the implications for agriculture and food supply, natural grasslands cover about a quarter of Earth’s land area and are habitats for many plant and animal species that depend on them.

“Much of the world is covered by grasses, so this is not a type of landscape where we would want to have large-scale extinctions,” Wiens says.

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