High carbon dioxide levels cause plants to thicken their leaves, could worsen climate change effects

  • Scientists have discovered that plants with thicker leaves may exacerbate the effects of climate change because they would be less efficient in sequestering atmospheric carbon, a fact that climate change models to date have not taken into account.
  • The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today hovers around 410 parts per million. Within a century, it may rise as high as 900 ppm. The carbon dioxide level that Kovenock and Swann simulated with thickened leaves was just 710 ppm.

University of Washington Read full ScienceDaily article here

When levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rise, most plants do something unusual: They thicken their leaves. Now scientists have shown that this reaction by plants will actually worsen climate change by making the global ‘carbon sink’ contributed by plants less productive.

….”If this single trait — leaf thickness — in high carbon dioxide levels has such a significant impact on the course of future climate change, we believe that global climate models should take other aspects of plant physiology and plant behavior into account when trying to forecast what the climate will look like later this century,” said Kovenock, who is lead author on the paper.

Scientists don’t know why plants thicken their leaves when carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere. But the response has been documented across many different types of plant species, such as woody trees; staple crops like wheat, rice and potatoes; and other plants that undergo C3 carbon fixation, the form of photosynthesis that accounts for about 95 percent of photosynthetic activity on Earth….

Marlies Kovenock, Abigail L. S. Swann. Leaf Trait Acclimation Amplifies Simulated Climate Warming in Response to Elevated Carbon Dioxide. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2018; DOI: 10.1029/2018GB005883