Australian scientists released a study on Wednesday that suggests climate change may hinder plants’ natural defense mechanisms against insect predators.

Credit: Pixabay / MANILA BULLETIN

The study conducted by Western Sydney University found that the silicon that is naturally produced by plants in order to make them resistant to insectoid herbivores may be inhibited by increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere, increased levels which are caused by global warming.

Dr James Ryalls, author of the report, told Xinhua on Wednesday that this process the plants undertake is often “neglected,” but it is crucial to resist herbivory, attacks by insect predators.

Ryalls maintained that while research in this field is somewhat in its infancy, the potential to use silicon as a natural form of pesticide is immense.

“It’s applicable to field conditions and crops, and even things like slag that is being tilled into the soil,” Ryalls said.

“It’s something that should definitely be implemented more.”

But the scientist pointed out that plants are able to naturally produce their own silicon protection, and that it is very possible that this naturally occurring phenomenon stops herbivory in plants by their insect attackers.

So, Nyalls warned that increased levels of CO2 (carbon dioxide) caused by global warming are of concern, and said previous studies have shown that during the Miocene Period that ended 5 million years ago carbon was not readily available, so silicon levels increased.

Therefore, in the case of increased CO2 levels caused by climate change, Nyalls said that silicon will decrease, thus causing the plants to lose their natural protective barrier.

“This will make the plants more susceptible to herbivores that feed on the plants,” Nyalls said.

“It will have a knock-on effect on their predators as well.”

“As CO2 levels increased, we saw this trade-off, we saw this negative correlation between carbon and silicon, so as carbon dioxide increases, silicon accumulation decreases.”

Nyalls suggested that in cases where plants have higher capability of producing silicon, the effects may become more pronounced.

Source: The Manila Bulletin | 15 March 2017

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