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Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Habitat of Denial: Polyploidy weeds out the illiterati plants at WUWT

Sou | 2:40 PM Go to the first of 2 comments. Add a comment

This time Anthony decides to mock a scientific paper with a "Friday Funny" (archived here).  The paper is a comparing diploid and polyploid populations for a number of different species of plants.  The scientists found that "more often than not, polyploids shared the same habitats as their close relatives with normal genome sizes."  They concluded that the general wisdom, that polyploidy conferred an advantage in helping plants survive new extreme environments, may be wrong.  Their conclusion:

“This means that environmental factors do not play a large role in the establishment of new plant species and that maybe other factors, like the ability to spread your seeds to new locations with similar habitats, are more important,” said Glennon.

You can read about the paper here at The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.  Or if you have a subs, you can get the paper here at Ecology Letters.  Supporting info is downloadable.

Selective breeding for climate change

Anthony Watts is missing the point of the research when he writes:
Apparently, all that work in selective crop breeding won’t overcome ‘climate change’
Selective breeding is done to express particular attributes to better suit the environment in which a plant is to be grown.  It is a deliberate selection.  There are limits to the conditions any particular plant species can thrive in, even with genetic modification. So in future, some crops will no longer be able to be grown profitably (or at all) in regions where climate changes. In that sense, selective breeding won't overcome climate change in many locales.  But it will help in others where the changes are not too extreme.

Polyploidy and agriculture 

Anthony displays his lack of research skills as well as his ignorance of agriculture and plant research when he writes:
I’m thinking they’d test this on actual crops, like corn, wheat, soybeans, or the like, crops we consume and that are important to economies. That would make sense, right? But then, I remembered that this is about ‘climate change’, where nothing makes much sense anymore.

Does he realise that "actual crops" are highly domesticated and there aren't too many populations of "wild" modern varieties of "corn, wheat, soybeans or the like".  And although there may (or may not) be polyploid populations of the progenitors or wild relatives of modern "corn, wheat, soybeans or the like" growing alongside diploid populations, for the purposes of the study itself, it doesn't matter what species were studied.

Anthony's ignorance of plant science and agriculture is one thing.  He is also lazy and didn't investigate the research itself.  Anthony decides that the researchers only studied one plant species, Larrea tridentata (creosote bush).  He was wrong.  The scientists studied several different species directly.  In addition they did a literature survey of several other species, which they documented in the supporting information.

Whether the researchers are likely to be correct in their conclusion or not, I'm not in a position to judge.  It's obvious that plants must be able to spread seeds to new locations if the species are to survive beyond a change to their original habitat. The extent to which those new locations must have similar conditions to the ones the original population had is the question and the point of the research.  These scientists propose that the habitat must be not too different and their research supports that conclusion.

The implications for agricultural crops is that there is a limit to what selective breeding can do in regard to developing varieties resistant to climate change.  For example, large changes in rainfall patterns, total rainfall, temperature (frost days, excessive heat) etc will be too much for some crop species even with selective breeding.  So some cropping areas will probably revert to grazing or different crops.  Some pastoral areas will get even drier, requiring a reduction in the stocking rate (or none at all). Other areas may get more and better rainfall allowing more productive pasture species and a higher stocking rate - depending on the soil.

The Diploid/Polyploid Fake Sceptic doesn't thrive outside its normal habitat

Are the various Fake Sceptic Spp. diploid or polyploid or are there both?  What happens to the denialiati when they try to leave their habitat?  In my observations of the occasional specimen that strays onto a science blog, these Fake Sceptic Spp don't thrive outside their normal habitat.

From the WUWT comments

Most of those commenting are just boasting about how they place no value on scientific research (but they are willing to reap the benefits).  Archived here.

vigilantfish says let's go for rational solutions. Does he mean the rational solution that these wheat farmers in WA have opted for?:
February 21, 2014 at 6:12 am
Gee, I wonder how wheat crops will fare when the climate ‘changes’? Oh, wait… different varieties have already been bred to grow in a wide range of climatic conditions.
I guess we’re too stupid to be able to continue using rational solutions. Actually, given the recent focus and conclusions of so many scientIFic studies, perhaps, worryingly, we are becoming that stupid. Aaargh!
Ljh disputes the relative stability of the climate of the Cape Region of South Africa and says:
February 21, 2014 at 6:26 am
The claim that the climate of the Western Cape has been stable for hundreds of thousands of years is absurd. The tiny, but phenomenally rich, floral kingdom found there, is presently the recipient of winter rainfall brought by the westerly wind belt shifting north and kept dry by prevailing southeasterly trade winds in summer. At the end of the last Ice Age it received exclusively summer rainfall with a period in between when it received both, all within thirteen thousand years.

Scientists don't agree with Ljh, for example this paper refers to climate stability since "sometime after the beginning of the Pliocene", which began about 5.3 million years ago (my bold italics):
Species richness in the Cape Region is hypothesized to have resulted from the presence of a complex mosaic of diverse habitats and steep ecological gradients against a background of relatively stable climate and geology after the mediterranean climate was established there sometime after the beginning of the Pliocene. A local or ecological mode of speciation may have been more important under these conditions than allopatric speciation.

MamaLiberty says food crops can grow in "almost any climate imaginable".  Mama's heading off to do some farming on the top of a mountain in the Antarctic interior after trying her/his hand in the Simpson Desert  (excerpt):
February 21, 2014 at 6:31 am
...As for food crops, all that is really necessary is abundant and low cost energy to deal with almost any climate change imaginable. Green houses and subterranean farms would be effective almost everywhere. The climate hysterics insist on attempting to pour two quarts of liquid into a one quart container – and call it “science.” 

Patrick doesn't know the difference between weather and climate and says:
February 21, 2014 at 6:50 am
Creosote bush? I used to live in the High Desert area of Southern California where the creosote bush thrives in summer daytime temperatures exceeding 115F while dropping to about 70F at night. Now, that’s climate change!

Big Don makes a valid point but he didn't understand the research did look at plant populations in different locations and examined the climatic differences.  In other words, they did what he suggested.
February 21, 2014 at 7:04 am
I don’t understand how the conclusion of the study was reached. If the polyploid and diploid variants of a given genome were living in the same environment, wouldn’t you expect them to resemble one another? What would be the driver for one plant to morph into something else? Wouldn’t it be a better experiment to look for species in neighboring, yet contrasting environments (Mountain tops vs. low valley at the base, for example) to see if there are polyploids that have similar genomes, yet have quite different adaptations?

I wonder if Robert W Turner uses groundwater for irrigation? He says:
February 21, 2014 at 7:45 am
Right, we were thinking in Kansas of switching out wheat for coffee in preparation for climate change but then remembered we don’t live in the same fantasy world as these clowns.

TonyG might not recognise the truth in what he writes when he says:
February 21, 2014 at 12:19 pm
If it gets any warmer, our crops won’t be able to handle the heat. They’ll burn up, we won’t have as much food, and we’ll all starve.
If it gets cooler, they won’t be able to take the cold. They’ll freeze, we’ll have shorter growing seasons and the crops won’t grow as well, and we’ll all starve.
So I’ve been told.

Pathway seems to not be aware of the famines and the consequent loss of life in the Little Ice Age. Nor is he aware that we are heading for a much greater change in the climate than the relatively small drop in temperature that caused the Little Ice Age when he says:
February 21, 2014 at 12:34 pm
Because we are onmivors we adapt our food sources to survive. During the depth of the Little Ice Age european culture moved from cereal crops to tubers and increase their live stock inventory and got along just fine. Human occupy every niche on the planet. A one or two degree increase in temperature, especially at the poles is not going to make any difference in our survival.

AndyG55 didn't even get as far as the location of the University and says:
February 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm
“Although her study examined plant species from North America and Europe only, she is looking forward to testing her hypotheses using South African plants.”
Been to North America, toured looking forward to her taxpayer funded trip to South Africa. 

Kelsey Glennon. Evidence for shared broad-scale climatic niches of diploid and polyploid plants. Ecology Letters, 2014 DOI: 1111/ele.12259

Goldblatt, Peter. "Floristic diversity in the Cape flora of South Africa." Biodiversity & Conservation 6, no. 3 (1997): 359-377. DOI 10.1023/A:1018360607299


  1. The textbook example of polyploidy is Spartina townsendii, which out competed its parent species and invaded new habitats. Surely Watts should be pleased that this new study suggests that the science of polyploid plants is not settled. There's no pleasing some people.

  2. Whenever Watts and commenters talk about something that falls into my area of expertise the depth of their ignorance becomes even more awe-inspiring. I'm sure people well-versed in climate science feel the same way when he posts on climate.

    --Dan Andrews


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