A new review study explains how climate change will skew the sex ratios of plants. From the Arizona Science Desk, Melissa Sevigny explains.
The study—published in the journal Nature Plants—looked at dioecious species, plants which have a distinct sex, male or female. Scientists reviewed 83 experiments that exposed them to warmer or drier conditions to simulate climate change.
Kevin Hultine of Northern Arizona University and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is the lead author. He said male plants had higher rates of photosynthesis under stress.
“What that means is that those lower rates of photosynthesis in females are going to put them at greater and greater disadvantage, which we presume will lead to greater rates of mortality,” he said.
Hultine said skewed sex ratios will be especially problematic for “foundation species” in the Southwest, such as cottonwood, willow, juniper and box elder. These trees reproduce slowly and likely won’t be able to adjust to the quickly warming climate in the region.