Climate Change Increases Proportion of Males in Plants with Separate Sexes, Posing Danger for Biological Communities

Plants affected may include asparagus, spinach, dates, mulberry and juniper.

August 02, 2016, Flagstaff, AZ - A paper published today by Nature Plants finds that climate change will result in more male plants in species with separate sexes, known as dioecious plants. This shift to a higher proportion of males for many dioecious plant species could be extreme, disrupting normal reproduction and affecting insect and other animal populations that depend on these plants.

“Our findings indicate that dioecious plants are more sensitive to the effects of climate change than other plant species,” said lead author Kevin Hultine, research ecologist at the Desert Botanical Garden and NAU adjunct professor. “We anticipate that females will die off at a higher rate as conditions become drier, which could result in extreme male-biased sex ratios for a significant number of populations.”

Researchers from Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Gardens, Northern Arizona University and the U.S. Geological Survey reviewed some 83 published studies to explore the effects of increased aridity on dioecious plant species. There are approximately 21,000 species of dioecious plants, examples of which include asparagus, spinach, dates, mulberry and juniper. 

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