November 2023: Poppenwimer & Mayrose: Perennials vs annuals: Big data on plants can predict their impact on climate change
A new study, published in Nature, by Dr. Tyler Poppenwimer, Edmond J. Safra postdoc fellow, and Prof. Itay Mayrose, Edmond J. Safra member (Life Sciences), examined for the first time the lifecycles of plants on a global scale, via the creation of a unique database containing huge quantities of data.
A new study, published in the prestigious journal Nature, by Dr. Tyler Poppenwimer, Edmond J. Safra postdoc fellow, his advisor, Prof. Itay Mayrose, Edmond J. Safra member (Life Sciences), and colleagues from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment at the Hebrew University, examined for the first time the lifecycles of plants on a global scale, via the creation of a unique database containing huge quantities of data.
For decades, scientists have been interested in the factors influencing the distribution and lifecycles of perennial and annual plants and the competition between the two. Perennial plants live for multiple years, while annual plants live for only one growing season and then die off. Various mathematical models have been developed to describe the conditions that affect their geographic distribution, but their fit to empirical data was limited. In this new study, the researchers created a new global database that marks the first attempt to examine the relationship between those models and the real-world situation. They used empirical big data analytical tools and applied statistical models to examine theoretical paradigms about the way in which human disturbance is affecting annual plants and their global distribution. To this end, the researchers assembled an extensive database of plant life cycle assignments of 235,000 plant species coupled with millions of georeferenced data-points to map the worldwide biogeography of these plant species. This analysis revealed that the frequency of annual plants is much lower than previously thought, encompassing only 6% of plant species, and that these plants are more abundant in regions with hot and dry summers.
Considering future climate change, the researchers predict an increase in annual plants prevalence for 69% of the world’s ecoregions by 2060. The analyses further raise concerns for ecosystem services provided by perennial plants, as ongoing changes are leading to a higher proportion of annual plants globally.