Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rising Carbon-Dioxide Levels Could Change Plant Evolution

Increased carbon-dioxide levels could alter what sorts of plants thrive, which plants die off, and how plants interact with insects in the future, according to scientists at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

The researchers studied how different species of milkweed responded to increased levels of CO2. They found that the exposed plants tended to grow larger, but different species responded to elevated CO2 levels in strikingly different ways.

For instance, most of the plants responded to the extra carbon dioxide by decreasing their levels of cardenolide, a toxin that works to fend off insects, but some milkweed strains increased their production of the poison. Many caterpillars that feed off of milkweed are very picky about the plants they eat and are likely to be more attracted to those with less poison, giving the more toxic milkweed strains a competitive advantage that could spread throughout the population, or cause other unforeseen effects.


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