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LONDON - Plants are flowering faster than scientists predicted in response to climate change, research in the United States showed on Wednesday, which could have devastating knock-on effects for food chains and ecosystems.
Increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels can affect how plants produce oxygen, while higher temperatures and variable rainfall patterns can change their behavior.
The study, published on the Nature website, draws on evidence from plant life cycle studies and experiments across four continents and 1,634 species. It found that some experiments had underestimated the speed of flowering by 8.5 times and growing leaves by 4 times.
Plants are essential to life on Earth. They are the base of the food chain, using photosynthesis to produce sugar from carbon dioxide and water. They expel oxygen which is needed by nearly every organism which inhabits the planet.
So far, efforts to cut emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases are not seen as sufficient to prevent the Earth heating up beyond 2 degrees C this century - a threshold scientists say risks an unstable climate in which weather extremes are common, leading to drought, floods, crop failures and rising sea levels.
The study can be viewed at www.nature.com/nature