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New Study Shows Climate Change May Increase the Spread of Plant Pathogens


Models suggest that higher latitude crops will experience higher infection rates and a greater number of threats

The agricultural impact of climate change would be a little more straightforward, if it occurred in a world where crops were free of their microbes. Research published today has found that in this hypothetical landscape, rising global temperatures will boost global agricultural productivity, partly by opening up new arable lands near the poles that were once too frigid for farming.

But this outcome is oversimplified, says study author Dan Bebber, an ecologist at the University of Exeter in the U.K. Global warming will also increase the spread of plant diseases, according to results published in the same study in Nature Climate Change. These plant pathogens may undermine any potential crop yield increases that arise from climate change.

Most modelling studies so far have focused on the impact of climate change on agricultural produce sans their microbial squatters. Bebber and his colleagues mapped the distribution of 80 species of virulent fungi and oomycetes—organisms known as “water molds” that cause blights and rots.

“One of the things that's missing [from existing crop models] is the biological component—the pests, pathogens,” says Bebber. “One of our long-term aims is to start building in a pathogen component … so we have a better appreciation of what the future might look like.”

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