MAPPING the response of wheat root systems is part of research aimed at avoiding the global food crisis experts predict will occur by 2050 as crops fail under the strain of future climates with less water, warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide.
CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Jairo Palta recently completed the collaborative investigation into the impact of such climates on the root system of wheat.
It concluded elevated carbon dioxide on its own enhanced root and shoot biomass but the positive effect was reduced when plants were grown under both elevated carbon dioxide and temperatures three degrees above current ambient temperature.
The findings of the three-year study High temperature reduces the positive effect of elevated CO2 on wheat root system growth have been published in Elsevier’s Field Crops Research.
The study says that by 2050 Australia carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be 550 parts per million (up from 384) but in reality is likely to be much higher and temperatures could be up to three degrees warmer.
Dr Palta says increasingly research is looking to find new types of wheat and other crop that can adapt to those conditions.
Previous studies have investigated the ‘above ground’ implications of individual environmental factors on wheat but there has been little investigation on the impact below ground on the root system of increased carbon dioxide, warmer temperatures and decreasing rainfall acting simultaneously.
Wheat roots put to the test
His team tested spring wheat genotypes growing them in especially designed tunnel houses in which temperature, carbon dioxide and irrigation were controlled.
Growth and proliferation of the roots was mapped weekly onto transparent film, which was then photographed and the digital images analysed using specialised computer software.
“The root system is very important because it captures water, nitrogen and other nutrients and this effects what happens above ground,” Dr Palta says.
“Climate change is going to have an impact on agricultural production and this is very critical because predictions suggest there is going to be a food crisis by the year 2050.
“This is because there will be less water available, fertile arable land is being developed for housing and used for industrial crops, soils are more hostile through drought, acidity and waterlogging. These are the challenges we have to face.
“We have to increase crop production to be able to face that food crisis which climate change is going to make worse.
“CSIRO and many other organisations are investigating solutions for those challenges.”