UCLA researchers lead study that gains insights on what grass species can grow in a changing climate

March 26, 2021

One-third of the Earth’s surface is covered by more than 11,000 grass species — including crops like wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane that account for the bulk of the world’s agricultural food production and important biofuels. But grass is so common that few people realize how diverse and important it really is.

Image Source: Alec Baird/UCLA

Research published today in the journal Nature provides insights that scientists could use not only to improve crop design but also to more accurately model the effects of climate change. It also offers new clues that could help scientists use leaf fossils to better interpret the climate of the ancient past.

The study’s senior author is Lawren Sack, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and one of the world’s most influential scientific researchers.

The research determined that grass with narrow leaves and high numbers of veins should be better able to withstand the drier conditions expected in the future. That finding should enable scientists to better predict grass species’ ability to tolerate cold and drought — important for conserving species amidst climate change. It also suggests that scientists who are breeding agricultural grasses to better survive cold climates and drought should turn their focus toward varieties with smaller leaves and more large veins.

Read More in UCLA Newsroom.

Study authors:

Alec S. Baird, UCLA, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Samuel H. Taylor, University of Lancaster, Lancaster Environment Centre; University of Sheffield, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Jessica Pasquet-Kok, UCLA, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Christine Vuong, UCLA, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Yu Zhang, UCLA, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Teera Watcharamongkol, University of Sheffield, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences; Kanchanaburi Rajabhat University, Faculty of Science and Technology

Christine Scoffoni, UCLA, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; CSU Los Angeles, Department of Biological Sciences

Erika J. Edwards, Yale University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Pascal-Antoine Christin, University of Sheffield, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Colin P. Osborne, University of Sheffield, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Lawren Sack, UCLA, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology