Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Helping the UK cope with climate change (in the countryside)

Research supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Defra is helping the UK to meet the challenges of climate change.

The latest research from scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council at North Wyke Research has found for the first time that the rate at which a dried soil is rewetted impacts on the amount of phosphorus lost from the soil into surface water and subsequently into the surrounding environment.

Crop growth, drinking water and recreational water sports could all be adversely affected if predicted changes in rainfall patterns over the coming years prove true, according to the research publishd this month in Biology and Fertility of Soils.

Some of the other research carried out by scientists to tackle climate change requires the study of fundamental processes in the life of plants. Under even mild environmental stress, plant cells may stop dividing, so the plant stops growing.

Research on the regulation of cell division, at the University of Cambridge, together with studies on plant growth at Rothamsted Research, is revealing how this response works. Once scientists can identify the genes that equip plants to tolerate and continue to grow under extreme climates, they can begin to breed them into commercial crop varieties. This approach is being used in East Anglia where drought is likely to be a worsening problem for sugar beet growers. Yields of sugar beet are predicted to decline by half in areas that are already experiencing difficulties. Scientists at Broom’s Barn are working with an international seed company to develop drought-resistant varieties.

Warmer wetter winters in the UK will make cereal crops more prone to fungal diseases such as Fusarium ear blight. At Rothamsted Research, scientists are exploring new crop management systems, including using natural predators, to control the fungus. They are also trying to find genes that confer natural resistance, so that these could be bred into wheat to make it less susceptible to Fusarium.

Using controlled environment chambers at the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Bangor, scientists from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) have modelled how temperature, atmospheric carbon dioxide and management practices affect grass yield and composition. They can predict grass growth and quality under different conditions, including the climate change scenarios identified by the UK Climate Impacts Programme.

For more info on this topic check out this pdf report:


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