The University of Navarra has installed a thermal gradient greenhouse in order to study the impact of climate change on plants. This is a pioneering methodology for studying the simultaneous effect of increased CO2 and ambient temperature. The research project, which will be undertaken by researchers from the area of Plant Biology of the University, could become a reference for later scientific studies in this area.
These studies, financed by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, the University Foundation of Navarra and the Foundation Caja Navarra, have already obtained their first results. “We have discovered that plants respond to enrichment of atmospheric CO2 with increased growth. This will imply an increase in the productivity of food crops and of plant growth in general,” explained Prof. Juan José Irigoyen, leader of the research project.
Nevertheless, after prolonged growth in an environment with increased CO2, plants become acclimatized and throttle back their growth. This could be due to the fact that in the new conditions produced by climate change, limiting factors appear which reduce plant growth, such as the availability of nutrients in the soil. In addition, the changes in other parameters associated with an increase in CO2 and with climate change in general, such as an increase in temperature and a reduction in rainfall, can reduce or even eliminate these beneficial effects.
Studies in forage crops, rapeseed and grapevines
The research team is made up of the professors Juan José Irigoyen and Manuel Sánchez-Díaz, of the University of Navarra; Fermín Morales, of the Spanish High Council of Scientific Research; the doctoral student Álvaro Sanz and the research technicians Amadeo Urdiáin and Mónica Oyarzun. Up to now, the team has focused its studies on forage crops such as alfalfa. These species can grow in nitrogen-poor soils; this element, when added to the soil as a fertilizer, contributes to the greenhouse effect and to pollution. However, the team is currently looking to expand its research area to other crops, such as rapeseed and grapevines.
In the case of climate change, induced in large part by the increase in atmospheric CO2, the team has undertaken studies in controlled conditions, with cameras to record growth, and currently with thermal gradient greenhouses, which permit undertaking studies on specific types of climate change. These are facilities that are similar to greenhouses, but which permit us to simulate an environment with increased CO2 and a simultaneous increase in temperature. According to this professor, “the conclusions will contribute to understand the response of plants to this kind of climate change, as well as to propose cultivation strategies for these plants which will help farmers to adjust to the new climate conditions.
- University of Navarra