A fruit and vegetable garden can take up to 20 years to grow, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Melbourne, the University at Albany and the University, Adelaide, Australia.
It was based on the premise that plants would be better able to withstand the stresses of climate change and to survive if they were able to take advantage of a climate-favorable environment.
“Fruit and vegetables are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and this is because they are grown in environments where they can withstand a variety of climate-change stresses, such as the sun’s irradiance,” said lead author Dr Andrew Mather, a research scientist in the School of Biological Sciences at the University.
“The longer fruits and vegetables take to grow and reach maturity, the higher their carbon footprint is.”
Dr Mather and his colleagues used an extensive suite of methods to study the response of plants to different types of stress, including drought, wind and heat.
“We found that in the dry, warm and cool seasons, fruits and vegetable plants were less able to cope with stress than those in the milder conditions, where plants were more tolerant of climate variations,” Dr Mather said.
“In addition, there was a significant effect of the soil temperature on the response, with soil temperatures being significantly lower at cooler and warmer locations.”
The study also found that when the climate was changing, fruit and vegetables grew faster, but not necessarily faster than other types of plants.
The authors say their findings provide new insight into the processes by which plants can adapt to climate change.
“Our results show that climate change does not simply cause plant survival to become less favourable,” Dr Matthew Jones, a PhD student in the Department of Biological Science at the Australian National University, said.
He said the study’s findings could be of value to plant breeders and growers as they try to improve their growing conditions in the future.
“There is no doubt that changes in climate are likely to have a major impact on the growth of plants, and the results of this study show that fruit and veg production in the tropics will be affected significantly by the onset of climate changes,” he said.
Dr Jones said the findings suggested that if we want to ensure that future generations of fruit and veggies have the best possible chances of surviving the changing conditions of the planet, we should consider how to ensure plants have sufficient time to reach maturity and survive the effects of climate.
“Future research could use such strategies as planting a variety that has been bred for the optimum conditions of plant survival, or planting plants in environments that are conducive to the growth and survival of these plants,” he added.
“Ultimately, the research is a call for us to rethink how we plan for the future and adapt to a changing environment in order to ensure a future for the planet.”
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