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New understanding of the well-being of climate-stressed plants

As a result of climate change, there is an increasing need for more intelligent, efficient and safe farming. A soon-to-be completed EU project – ModCarboStress – might have taken an important step in this work: getting to understand the stressed plants better. The project indicates the work to be carried out at iClimate – the forthcoming research centre at Aarhus University. Its task is to create new climate knowledge for the benefit of business and society.

2017.12.04 | Rasmus Rørbæk

(Photo: Colourbox)

Climate change puts crops under stress and poses a potentially great challenge for farmers and plant breeders. However, there is no specific knowledge about the extent of climate stress on plants in the ground – especially when they are stressed by a number of factors at the same time. In a major EU project with the participation of Aarhus University, it has been demonstrated that climate models can be improved if knowledge is available about the way crops react to climate-related stress (heat and drought) and the air content of CO2.

The climate of the future is expected to be variable and unpredictable. This increases the need for calculation models that can predict the best combinations of varieties, rotation of crops, sowing periods and other cultivation-related factors when things start to ‘rock the boat’ even more. Such models would be an enormous benefit for farmers, and plant breeders would be able to find stronger varieties.

“We’re affected by climate change, and until we can significantly reduce greenhouse gases and their effects, climate change will have a significant impact on crops. The big question we’ve focused on is how the crops react to the change – and how this fits in with the models available in this area. Until now, there’s been considerable uncertainty regarding the predictions of the models and the actual effects on the crops. This is what we’ve tried to explain,” says Professor Carl-Otto Ottosen, Department of Food Science.

The EU project is called ModCarboStress and, for almost three years, researchers have not only gathered existing models and assessed their quality, but have also studied the actual reactions of the plants to the climate change they are exposed to. The focus points are based on wheat and canola (rapeseed) to gather more knowledge about the plant physiological reactions when crops are stressed, at the same time as being exposed to a high CO2 content in the air. This was previously one of the areas where the most common models did not quite hit the target. Aarhus University’s part of the project was concerned with collecting data about the plants’ physiological reactions to different stress factors, thereby making it possible to compare model and reality.

“We have access to advanced greenhouses, climate chambers and photosynthesis equipment, and we have considerable experience in the control and measurement of reactions to CO2. We’ve now used this experience to create basic physiological data that can be used to develop new and stronger models by applying data from field studies in other projects.

Here we can see that increased CO2 does in fact boost crop growth, but the increased growth rate means a significantly smaller yield per plant. This knowledge can be applied when developing new models or selecting new varieties,” explains Professor Ottosen.

ModCarboStress is an EU project funded by the European Research Area Network (ERA-NET): FACCE JPI Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. The three-year project has a budget of DKK 8 million, granted by FACCE JPI via the individual country’s national funds. The project is led by the INRA research institute in France with partners in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, France and the UK, including Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen.

The work can continue at iClimate
On 5 December 2017, Aarhus University is opening a new strategic research centre called the Interdisciplinary Centre for Climate Change (iClimate). The centre will gather a wide range of researchers and strong research groups that already exist at the university, thereby supporting the important work of providing society and industry with in-depth knowledge about the extent and importance of climate change for a considerable number of important societal and business critical areas.

Read more about iClimate here.

For more information, please contact
Professor Carl-Otto Ottosen
Department of Food Science
+45 2290 3105

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