'Rule breaking' plants may be climate change survivors

Plants that break some ecological rules by adapting to new environments in unconventional ways could have a higher chance of surviving the impacts of climate change, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Sydney, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Queensland.

Professor Glenda Wardle, from the University of Sydney’s Desert Ecology Research Group, is one of the founding members of the international PlantPopNet team that coordinated the global collaborative research.

“The study is exciting as it is the first publication from the PlantPopNet team,” she said. “We were able to attract researchers from around the world to study in their own backyard, at a low cost. It’s a humble plant but it has the right mix of interesting biology to be a model for how plants might respond to altered environments.”

Dr Annabel Smith, from UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Professor Yvonne Buckley, from both UQ’s School of Biological Sciences and Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, and PlantPopNet studied the humble plantain (Plantago lanceolata) in an attempt to see how it became one of the world’s most successfully distributed plant species.

“We hoped to find out how plants adapt to hotter, drier or more variable climates and whether there were factors that made them more likely to adapt or go extinct,” Dr Smith said. “The plantain, a small plant native to Europe, has spread wildly across the globe – we needed to know why it’s been so incredibly successful.”

Read more at The University of Sydney


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