Florida research shows that for rice, warmer earth brings uncertain future


"We're on the downhill side for rice and soybeans now, so if there's any temperature increase the yield will slide down," Boote said.

Although the plants continued to flourish, they produced nearly no rice at the highest temperature cycle of 86 to 104 degrees, the study found.

"We were hoping to find some evidence that the tropical cultivar could sustain reproductive ability at the highest temperature, but it didn't, which is bad news," said Alison Snyder, a UF graduate student who worked on the study for her masters thesis.

Indeed, the temperature cycles used in the experiment closely track scientists' more modest predictions for global warming. An average global increase of 5.4 degrees by 2100, considered probable by many scientists, would produce temperatures in the experiment's higher range, Snyder said. And that prediction is about half the 10 degree increase viewed as the most dire possibility.

Rice comprises 40 percent of the daily calories of 2 billion people, many of whom live in Third World tropical regions, Snyder said. If rice production ceased or moved into more northern regions, it would have a severe impact on these already poor areas, she said.

"The Third World regions have the potential to be hit hard," she said. The findings track earlier UF research on soybeans, peanuts and dry beans, although rice and dry beans appear the most sensitive to temperature change, Allen said.

The news, however, is not necessarily all bad. Snyder and Allen said plant scientists likely can develop more heat-tolerant varieties of rice and other grains. Still, selective breeding has a limit. "If this happens with so many different species, then I don't see a lot of potential for selecting genetically within a species for a solution to it," Boote said.

Another possibility is that other grains will become tomorrow's staples. UF scientists have recently experimented with a grain called the pigeon pea, which is more tolerant of hot, dry cl

Contact: Hartwell Allen
University of Florida

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