From: Ariel David, Reuters
Published May 23, 2007 12:00 AM

Study Shows that Climate Change Could Harm Crops

ROME -- Climate change could drive many wild relatives of plants such as the potato and the peanut into extinction, threatening a valuable source of genes necessary to help these food crops fight pests and drought, an international research group reported.

During the next 50 years, more than 60 percent of 51 wild peanut species analyzed and 12 percent of 108 wild potato species analyzed could become extinct because of climate change, according to a study released Tuesday by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Surviving species would be confined to much smaller areas, further eroding their capacity to survive, the report said.

The study looked at the distribution of various species and predicted their ability to survive based on current and projected climate data for 2055.

Farmers and researchers often depend on wild plants to breed new varieties of crops that contain genes for traits such as pest resistance or drought tolerance, and that reliance is expected to increase as climate changes strain the ability of crops to continue to have the same yields as now, the group said in a statement.

In recent years, genes found in wild relatives have helped develop new types of domesticated potatoes that can fight devastating potato blight and new varieties of wheat more likely to survive droughts, the statement said.

"There is an urgent need to collect and store the seeds of wild relatives in crop diversity collections before they disappear," said Andy Jarvis, an agricultural geographer who led the study. "At the moment, existing collections are conserving only a fraction of the diversity of wild species that are out there."

Jarvis said further research is needed to identify which wild relatives are more vulnerable to climate change.

Plant species like the peanut are more endangered by global warming as they grow largely in flat areas and would have to migrate over huge distances to find cooler climates, while plants that live on mountain slopes may only need to gain a little altitude to find more favorable weather, he said.

The study, focusing on plants in Africa and South America, was put out by a Rome-based biodiversity group, one of 15 agricultural research centers worldwide supported by the Consultative Group.

The international organization is an informal association of 64 countries, public and private groups co-sponsored by the World Bank and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. It works toward sustainable food security and researches ways to cut poverty in developing countries through scientific research.


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