Research conducted by an academic from Edge Hill University has led to a discovery which could impact on the future of some developing countries.

Sven Batke, Lecturer in Biology, has jointly authored a paper titled Increasing stomatal conductance in response to rising atmospheric CO2, which has been published in the Annals of Botany, an international plant science journal.

The paper reassesses how plants interact with the climate. Until now it was assumed and has been demonstrated that ecosystems across the world would reduce their water loss under future predicted increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, this new study challenges that assumption using several lines of evidence.

Stomata, tiny openings on the surface of leaves, take in carbon dioxide and release water vapor into the air during the process of photosynthesis. An increase in carbon dioxide as a result of burning of fossil fuels in the atmosphere, is causing plants to keep their stomata shut for longer, resulting in the plants becoming more water use efficient (i.e. requiring less water).

This is good news for the plants. However the decrease in water loss through the process of transpiration is causing the soil to become more saturated with water, therefore contributing towards flooding by increasing the risk of run-off.

However, not all plants are reacting in the same way.

Dry, arid countries, such as some African nations, are already environmentally challenged as they are prone to drought. Instead of conserving water, insights from this new study show  that  plants in these countries might be doing the opposite to what is expected  The increase in loss of water from the soil, has the potential to increase the risk of drought in these regions.

“The results from our study has clearly highlighted that the response of plants to elevated carbon dioxide is by no means uniform across all global biomes. What was particularly interesting to see was that in some dry and hot regions in the world, plants actually lose water instead of conserving it. This could have potentially large negative consequences for local communities who particularly rely on the availability of water for their food production,” said Sven.

This is something few researchers have looked at previously, and as well as creating further challenges for people living in these areas, it provokes a number of questions. Does this imply that the desert will expand? Do crops need genetic modifications so they can grow in these areas, or are there other ways to encourage plants to conserve water?

Sven will be conducting further research into this controversial topic in the coming months.

Read the full paper here.