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Arizona Researchers: Climate Change Will Skew Sex Ratios Of Plants

box elder trees
(Photo courtesy of Kevin Hultine)
Box elder trees.

A new review study explains how climate change will skew the sex ratios of plants. The research team is from Flagstaff.

The study — published Tuesday 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.

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Melissa grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Arizona and an M.FA. in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University.