DATE: October 1, 2018
SNIP: Plant scientists have observed that when levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rise, most plants do something unusual: They thicken their leaves.
And since human activity is raising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, thick-leafed plants appear to be in our future.
But the consequences of this physiological response go far beyond heftier leaves on many plants. Two University of Washington scientists have discovered that plants with thicker leaves may exacerbate the effects of climate change because they would be less efficient in sequestering atmospheric carbon, a fact that climate change models to date have not taken into account.
In addition to a weakening plant carbon sink, the simulations run by Abigail Swann, a UW assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and biology, and Marlies Kovenock, a UW doctoral student in biology, indicated that global temperatures could rise an extra 0.3 to 1.4 degrees Celsius beyond what has already been projected to occur by scientists studying climate change.
Scientists don’t know why plants thicken their leaves when carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere. But the response has been documented across many different types of plant species, such as woody trees; staple crops like wheat, rice and potatoes.