Plants in climate change

Plants are also feeling the effects of climate change: food crops are increasingly affected by damage, especially as a result of drought and precipitation deficits. New "climate-smart" plant varieties that are better adapted to these changed conditions because they are tolerant to heat and drought are one of the research topics we are working on.

Rising temperatures also benefit plants that are native to warmer parts of the world but now find suitable conditions to survive here. By 2000, approximately 10 species of alien pests had become established on plants in Europe per decade. Climate warming favors the appearance of new weed species of subtropical origin in Austria. Thus, in recent years, we have increasingly observed the occurrence of new, often heat-loving weed species in agriculture, such as tiger grass or velvet poplar.

However, many already established heat-loving species that have so far only occurred in certain regions of Austria will also benefit. One example is the ragweed(Ambrosia artemisiifolia). Currently, its main distribution is restricted to the warm lowlands of eastern Austria. However, as a consequence of climate change, a rapid spread of the species to other parts of Austria is expected.

Alien animals are also among the beneficiaries of climate change: this also increases the risk of so-called quarantine pests becoming established in Europe. These are plants, animals and pathogens (bacteria, fungi or viruses) that cause major economic damage to plants. Invasive plants can, for example, displace native species and permanently change the structure and function of ecosystems.

A further increase is expected in the coming years due to climate change and globalized trade. These "bio-invasors" pose major challenges to agriculture in particular. With our pest monitoring, early warning services and research, we help to assess future risks to the production of important agricultural crops in Austria due to climate change and to find creative solutions to the new problems.

Weeds as winners of climate change

Pests as winners of climate change

Our research on plants and climate change adaptation

We conduct intensive research in the field of climate change adaptation in order to develop the right strategies for dealing with the changing climate. Our research projects deal with the effects of climate on agricultural crops and the spread of new weed species and pathogens.

In this way, our experts examine which plants are best suited to the new climate conditions in order to guarantee sustainable food security in the future. Together with national and international research institutions and breeding companies, strategies and methods have been developed to make new, better adapted crop varieties available.

Our researchers are also studying the effects of stress factors such as heat and drought on the most important crops in terms of area, such as cereals, protein crops and potatoes. In this way, they support the breeding of new varieties that are better adapted to future challenging growing conditions. However, climate change also threatens traditional and regionally important crops, such as the beetle bean, for which high crop losses were recorded in past heat summers. In research projects, our scientists have been able to develop molecular markers that optimise the breeding of heat-resistant varieties.

Not only can changing climatic conditions have a negative impact on crop yields, but new plant diseases such as the pea necrotic yellow dwarf virus (PNYDV) also threaten the harvest. This type of nanovirus, which is transmitted by aphids, has been known since 2009. However, a lot of epidemiological information is still missing to be able to react specifically to this new threat. Our experts are collecting important information and developing control strategies against the aphids that transmit the virus.

Climate change also benefits plants that have never existed in our country before and that can overgrow existing plants as weeds or appear as poisonous plants. This leads to high yield losses, health risks and high control costs. The change and development of these weed communities and the development of control measures are also part of our research.

We are in regular exchange and are part of EU-wide projects to ensure climate-friendly and sustainable management of agricultural soils. To this end, we conduct joint research throughout the EU and work on bundled topics, carry out research projects and implement the results together in order to be able to ensure food security in Austria in the future as well.

Last updated: 22.12.2023

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