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Water Storage Can't Save Crops During Drought; Dry Air a Major Threat to Plant Health

Sep 06, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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Plants have a lot to stress about these days since environmental threats due to climate change have been coming out with alarming regularity. A new study has added one more thing to that list -- dry air.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, researchers at the University of Indiana concluded that dry air, more so than dry soil, has a major impact on crop health. Scientific models were developed to study the effects of hot, dry drought conditions on ecosystems.

"There is much uncertainty when it comes to our ability to predict future patterns of carbon uptake by plants," lead author and assistant professor in the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs Kimberly Novick said in a release via Phys.org.

"A lot of that uncertainty is related to an incomplete understanding of how ecosystems respond to drought. Our work suggests that properly specifying how plants respond to variations in atmospheric humidity is one way to reduce this uncertainty," he added.

The study shows that during drought, dry soil is unable to provide moisture to plants. Meanwhile, dry air or low relative humidity pulls moisture from the plants into the atmosphere.

Plants have a natural defense against moisture-sucking dry air through the stomates. These small pores can close and prevent moisture from leaving the plant.

However, closed stomates have another effect -- they cause the plant to take in less carbon. Absorption of carbon dioxide is one of a plants' key roles in the environment.

In order to separate the effects of dry soil from dry air, the team took hourly measurements and saw that soil moisture has little variation throughout the day. This means that rapid changes in plants can be attributed to the more highly variable humidity.

The ability to understand and predict climate change effects will allow us to put proper precautions in place. As a result of this study, we know traditional water storage and supply will not be enough -- further planning is needed.

Read:
Double Trouble: Scientists Modify Plant to Grow and Defend at the Same Time
State of the Climate Report Reveals Global Heat, Greenhouse Gases Reach Record Highs in 2015

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