Papaver somniferum ©PeterDargatz
Papaver somniferum ©PeterDargatz

Plants under socioeconomic stress

New research shows that socioeconomic stresses affect plants and their capability to survive in deteriorating environmental conditions.

Ecologists used big data to test links between climate suitability and persistence strategies for around 100 populations of over 30 species of trees and herbs growing on three continents and 16 countries across the globe.

Published in Ecology Letters, the research was conducted by Dr Anna Mária Csergő, a research fellow in Zoology at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, alongside Professor Yvonne Buckley.

Csergő said: “Plants provide food, pastures for livestock, and places for recreation and wellbeing. They also directly and indirectly provide numerous invaluable ecosystem services such as water regulation, carbon sequestration and flood prevention.

“It is imperative that we understand how plant populations are responding to climate constraints and use that information to predict how they are likely to respond to climatic changes in the future.”

Data was gathered over a decade, allowing ecologists to identify emergent patterns linked to climate change.

Findings suggest that while many species are able to persist in less favourable climate conditions, those same species frequently do so by adopting strategies such as shrinking in size and temporarily suspending reproductive and growth efforts.

Species such as a soapwort and a poppy were found in the mountains of Europe, grey alder was identified in North America, as well as the African mahogany. These plants are more vulnerable to further change and disturbance such as wildfire and pest outbreaks, of which are heightened due to changing climates.

Buckley added: “Not all plants have the life strategies to persist for extended periods of time in less favourable climates, but our research is helping to pinpoint those that do”.

The project has been funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship GEODEM to Dr Csergő under the EU’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.