Scientists at the University of Navarra, Spain, have installed a thermal gradient greenhouse in order to study the impact of climate change on plants.
They say the pioneering methodology for studying the simultaneous effect of increased CO2 and ambient temperature could become a reference for later scientific studies in this area.
Research project leader Prof. Juan José Irigoyen said, the scientists have already obtained their first results.
"We have discovered that plants respond to enrichment of atmospheric CO2 with increased growth. This will imply an increase in the productivity of food crops and of plant growth in general," said Prof. Irigoyen.
He said, however, after prolonged growth in an environment with increased CO2, plants became acclimatized and throttled back their growth.
Prof. Irigoyen said this could be due to the fact that limiting factors that reduced plant growth, such as the availability of nutrients in the soil, appeared in the new conditions produced by climate change.
In addition, the changes in other parameters associated with an increase in CO2 and with climate change in general, such as an increase in temperature and a reduction in rainfall, could reduce or even eliminate these beneficial effects, he said.
The research team is made up of the professors Juan José Irigoyen and Manuel Sánchez-Díaz, of the University of Navarra; Fermín Morales, of the Spanish High Council of Scientific Research; the doctoral student Álvaro Sanz and the research technicians Amadeo Urdiáin and Mónica Oyarzun.
Up to now, the team has focused its studies on forage crops such as alfalfa.
These species can grow in nitrogen-poor soils; this element, when added to the soil as a fertilizer, contributes to the greenhouse effect and to pollution. However, the team is currently looking to expand its research area to other crops, such as rapeseed and grapevines.