Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Identification of important crop traits for adaptation to climate change - AC0314

In the future, agricultural cropping in the UK is likely to be taking place against a background of changes in environmental factors which have an impact on productivity and the efficiency of land and resource usage. The consensus of scientific opinion as represented by the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment is that the global climate is warming. This change is taking place in response to changes in the composition of the atmosphere which are likely to include a significant contribution from human activities.
The major atmospheric component forcing warming is carbon dioxide (CO2). The level of CO2 has doubled since pre-industrial times to about 380 ppm at present and is continuing to rise. Current SRES illustrative scenarios predict CO2 stabilisation at 550 to 650 ppm for the low to intermediate cases and higher, or no stabilisation for the intermediate to high cases. IPCC model predictions around the SRES A2 scenario indicate that CO2 levels will be about 50% higher by the 2050s.

Changes for the UK climate are predicted to involve seasonal and regional alterations in the pattern of rainfall. UKCP09 has produced central estimates for 2050 under a high emissions scenario that predict drier summers and wetter winters.The need to breed crops that make more efficient use of water has been identified as an important adaptation measure for sustainable cropping in future environments. The drivers for this are both the predictions of changes in precipitation as a result of climate change and the competing demands for water for domestic and industrial use. A recent analysis found that improving crop response to drought was the objective of the majority of research carried out aimed at adaptation to climate change in the UK.

UKCIP09 temperature predictions give central estimates of 2-3 C for winter and 2 – 4 C for summer, which are higher than previously predicted in UKCIP 02. Also, as shown above, CO2 levels will be much higher by mid century. Water use efficiency (WUE) is highly dependent on CO2 levels for the majority of UK crops and the impacts of water availability CO2 levels and temperature on crop production are mutually interdependent.
The majority of UK research funded by Defra and other sponsors on crop water use efficiency (WUE) has been, and is being, carried out at current levels of CO2 and at current ambient temperatures. A consequence of this approach is that the genetic basis for WUE found in experiments at ambient CO2 may be immaterial or even counterproductive under high CO2 while others could prove to be more significant at high CO2 where nutrient assimilation is important. In addition, traits that would be of benefit at high temperature and CO2 may not be apparent under ambient conditions.

We propose to address this question by testing the hypothesis that traits for water or nutrient use efficiency identified at current CO2 levels are the same as those that are relevant under high CO2.We will do this by in experiments using two crop types, wheat as an example of a cereal seed crop and Brassica oleracea as a leafy vegetable crop. A range of genotypes will be screened for growth, productivity and water use efficiency in glasshouses at ambient (~380 ppm) and elevated (550 ppm) CO2 and at different levels of irrigation and nutrition alone or in combination. A series of growth parameters, photosynthetic rates, compositional quality and yield will be monitored.

From the results of these experiments it will be possible to reveal the interdependency of the interacting factors and mechanisms involved and devise crop improvement strategies for productive and robust genotypes
7. (b) Objectives

The overall objective of this work is to test the null hypothesis that traits for water or nutrient use efficiency identified at current CO2 levels are the same as those that are relevant under high CO2.
1 To compare the growth and yield of a range of genotypes of wheat and vegetable brassicas under limited nutrient availability at ambient levels of CO2 (380 ppm) and at elevated (550 ppm) CO2. 19 months
2 To compare the growth and yield of selected genotypes of wheat and vegetable brassicas under a combination of limited water availability at ambient levels of CO2 (380 ppm) and at elevated (550 ppm) CO2. 31 months
3 To establish effects of treatments on photosynthesis, nitrogen usage, biochemical composition and plant structure. 31 months
4 To use information to assess whether genetic advantages in water and nutrient use efficiencies at current ambient levels of CO2 are sustained at elevated levels of CO2. 34 months.
Project Documents
• EVID4 - Final project report : Evid4 AC0314 Final Report   (1949k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2010

To: 2013

Cost: £373,570
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Warwick - HRI
Adapting to Climate Change              
Fertiliser Application