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Grass food crops facing climate change challenge - 30th September

Poaceae

A study has highlighted the risk posed by projected climate change on the world's ability to grow enough food.

A US team of researchers found that forecasted shifts in climate by 2070 would occur too quickly for species of grass to adapt to the new conditions.

The species facing an uncertain future include wheat, corn, rice and sorghum, which provide almost half of the calories consumed by humans.

Not only does the grass family (Poaceae) of more than 11,000 species form the staple of people's diets across the globe, natural grasslands cover about a quarter of the planet's land area and provide a home to a rich diversity of dependent flora and fauna.

The team from the University of Arizona, US, observed: "Thus, if climate change has strong negative impacts on grasses, there might be significant consequences for both global biodiversity and for humans."

In order to gain an insight into the impact of projected climate change on the world's grasses, they estimated the rates of climate change niche change in a representative sample of 236 grass species and compared these rates with rates of projected climate change by 2070.

"A climatic niche is basically the temperature and precipitation conditions where a species occurs," explained co-author John Wiens from the university's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

"What is important about it is that if you are thinking about one species living in one place and it can only survive under a limited set of conditions then, as the climate changes, it either has to shift its climatic niche or it is going to go locally extinct."

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