Climate change ‘may boost yields in Europe, but raises risk of crop diseases’

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Climate change may boost crop yields in Europe and countries further away from the equator, but the produce could also face an increased risk of infection by pests, research suggests.

Scientists at the University of Exeter have developed models to predict what will happen to crops in the future as the planet’s temperatures rise.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, indicate that tropical areas such as Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa, India and South-east Asia, may see the impact of crop diseases fall.

But, the team added, disease risk will grow in areas with higher latitudes, with Europe and China being “particularly vulnerable” to around 80 fungal and fungi-like plant pathogens.

Study author Professor Daniel Bebber, of University of Exeter’s department of biosciences and the Global Systems Institute, said: “Plant pathogens already cause devastating production losses globally.

“Our previous research has shown that crop pests and pathogens are moving away from the equator, and this new study estimates risks from pathogens in the coming decades.

“Our results show that climate-driven yield gains in temperate regions will be tempered by the increased burden of crop protection.

“Rapid global dissemination by international trade and transport means pathogens are likely to reach all areas in which conditions are suitable for them.”

The authors compared current yields and future yields projections for 12 major crops.

Thomas Chaloner, a PhD student at the University of Exeter and first author on the study, said: “Agriculture has to plan and prepare for the future – and that future is almost here.

“We have only got a few decades, and crop breeding can take a long time, so we need to think about resistance to pathogens that haven’t arrived yet.

“A lot of pathogens – especially those currently found in tropical areas – are seriously under-researched.

“We need to invest in understanding these diseases, which could become increasingly prevalent in the key crop-growing areas of the world.”

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