It is no doubt that the planet is experiencing a serious climate change and if the phrase “survival of the fittest” originating from the evolutionary theory is something to by, then the means to understand and be able to cope with the changes has to be found. Luckily, we always seem to have all the answers to all of our problems, if only we look at the right place.
A recent study published in the Canadian Journal Of Plant Science; “Predicting Weed Invasion In Canada Under Climate Change: Evaluating Evolutionary Potential” has found the right place to look, weeds. The study conducted by Antonio DiTommaso, a weed ecologist, Richard C. Call, a director of Agricultural Sciences and David Clements, a biologist at Trinity Western University has found out that while other species are likely to suffer from environmental fluctuations, temperature changes may help the invasive category of weeds expand their ranges. This ability to colonize new areas is further enhanced by the weeds natural capability to rapidly change genetically.
The study, according to DiTommaso, modeled itself on the fact that plants are dynamic entities in the evolutionary tree as opposed to static entities as evidently portrayed by the changes in weed distribution over time. Scientist have for many years thought that weeds may never develop herbicide resistance on a level as high as the insecticide resistance of the 1950’s and 1960’s, but the currently widespread herbicide resistance has shown that weeds have a strong potential to evolve in the presence of aggravated selection pressure.
Four different weed species that seem to be expanding their ranges within North America towards Canada were used for the study, they are Velvetleaf, Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam and Johnsongrass. Observations of the weeds showed potential evolutionary responses to climate change in each of the species even with the population genetic differences. According to DiTommaso, the study findings will help to address the spread of weeds and the ecological and subsequently the economic damages it could cause.
He is also fascinated by the lessons likely to be learned from the inhabiting nature of weeds in restoring degraded areas. He says that though weeds are seen as just plants out of place, from the ecological point of view they are good colonizers of disturbed ecosystems and will remain resilient even with repeated disturbances. This makes weeds essential to both agriculture and human well-being mainly by protecting and restoring soil. “They can initiate the process that will eventually restore any forest, prairie, savanna or whatever ecosystem that was native to that location,” he adds.
Though weeds are still considered as the main production constraint for the organic agricultural field because they cause more yield loss than crop pathogens and insect pest, the need to implement safe and sustainable strategies for dealing with weeds is essential. The research team also point out that we should however consider what makes these wild weeds as resilient and maybe these schemes that makes them troublesome could help in designing better cropping systems to help cope with the predicted climate change.