Study: Climate Change Will Skew Sex Ratios of Plants

Aug 2, 2016

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

Box elders
Credit Kevin Hultine

The study – published today in the journal Nature Plantslooked 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 says 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 says.

Hultine says 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.