If the situation gets worse, forests could actually start emitting carbon, instead of absorbing it, says Dr. Anthony Horton.
The number of growth days for plants could decrease by 11% by 2100 if only limited action is taken to address climate change, according to a study which was a collaboration by the Universities of Hawaii and Montana and recently published in PLOS Biology.
A number of variables determine plant growth, and the extent to which climate change affects that growth is attracting considerable research attention which is focused on a number of plant species and food crops. According to the study, a 7% reduction in the average number of freezing days will assist plant growth, however extreme temperatures, lower water availability and changes in soil conditions will make it harder for many plants to survive.
Lower growth would eventually completely destroy forests and fundamentally alter the habitats upon which many species rely for survival. If the situation gets significantly worse, forests could essentially reverse their ecological role of absorbing carbon and emit it, further exacerbating climate change, according to the study’s lead author Camilo Mora from the University of Hawaii.
The effects of climate change on plant growth will vary by region according to the study, with Russia, China and Canada having more growing days available for plants, however hot tropical regions could lose up to 200 growing days per year. The study estimated that 3.4 billion people would live in locations that lose approximately one-third of their growing days, and more than 2 billion of those people live in low income countries. The researchers acknowledged that these findings represented a worst case scenario and that with moderate efforts by all nations, plant life worldwide will be less vulnerable.