Study: Israeli Plants Can Withstand Global Warming

All the species examined in the Holy Land can cope with climate change of ‘biblical’ dimensions, say researchers

Tielbörger Katja

Israel’s most common plant species are likely to survive the stresses of global warming that threaten many other species of vegetation worldwide, an international study has concluded.

The study, whose results were published this weekend in the journal “Nature Communications,” concluded that Israeli plants are used to coping with harsh conditions such as drought, and have therefore developed mechanisms to cope with such conditions that will also enable them to withstand the extreme conditions global warming is expected to produce.

The researchers, from Israel, Germany and the United States, spent 10 years monitoring various species of plants in several regions of Israel with different climates, from the Galilee to the Negev. The plant communities they examined included oats, barley, the Silene and Erodium genera of flowering plants, and clover.

The researchers subjected different portions of the plant communities they studied to varying climate conditions. For instance, some plots were covered over to reduce the rainfall they received, such that at times they received as little as 30 percent of the rain they usually get. Other plots were irrigated to simulate excessive rainfall. The researchers then compared the plants’ responses to those of plants in the control plots, which received the normal amount of precipitation.

Prior to beginning their study, the researchers had assumed that climate variations resulting in hotter temperatures and less rainfall would damage the plants and perhaps cause some of them to “migrate” to cooler areas by dispersing their seeds. But in fact, the study found that these native Israeli species weren’t influenced by the simulated climate variations, even after almost 10 growing seasons. Not a single one of the measures the researchers checked – including species’ richness and composition, density of the vegetation and biomass, meaning the total proportion of biological matter in a given area – showed any significant changes.

The researchers’ primary explanation for these surprising findings is that over the course of thousands of years, the eastern Mediterranean region has known harsh droughts no less extreme than those predicted to occur in this area due to global warming, at least in the short and medium terms. Consequently, species native to the region have developed various mechanisms to enable them to survive such conditions. For instance, some species maintain a reservoir of seeds in the ground that can survive even during droughts.

“Based on our study, the going hypothesis that all arid regions will react strongly to climate change needs to be amended,” said the lead researcher on the study, Dr. Katja Tielborger of the University of Tubingen in Germany.

A press statement put out by Rutgers University in New Jersey, which also had faculty members involved in the study, said the researchers “concluded that plant communities in the Holy Land can cope with climate change of ‘biblical’ dimensions.”

Other researchers came from Tel Aviv University and from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment in Rehovot.

The scientist who was in charge of the research in Israel is Professor Marcelo Sternberg  from Tel Aviv University.