Some plant types could increase the temperatures in Europe and China from three degrees Celsius to up to five degrees Celsius, according to a study published online in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Apparently, different plants use different water-use strategies, with some releasing less water to the atmosphere, increasing temperature and intensifying heatwaves as a result.

Lead author Jatin Kala from Murdoch University says that current climate models assume that all plants undergo the same process of trading water for carbon. Because of this, climate estimations are inaccurate, with some exaggerating  amount of water loss in some regions.

They predict that the biggest temperature change will happen in needleleaf forests, tundra, and agricultural lands where crops are grown. This is the first study to consider the water-use strategies of various plant types for a global climate model.

Early greening caused by global warming may amplify heatwaves across large parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Photo from Pixabay/nayrusfire

Early greening caused by global warming may amplify heatwaves across large parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Photo from Pixabay/nayrusfire

The research team studied 314 plant species from 56 different field areas. They looked at the plants’ stomata or the small pores on their leaves that gather CO2 and lose water to the atmosphere, determining that plants do not have the same water-use strategies.

The researchers admit that they initially wanted to learn how plants function. They actually did not expect to see these results. Additionally, the researchers say that this study may improve current climate models.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Bureau of Meteorology and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science created the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS) model used in the study. Plus, thanks to ARC Discovery’s funding of this work, the research can pave the way for the development of new vegetation models around the world.

“This long-term investment in key infrastructure is why Australian science continues to punch above its weight,” says Andy Pitman, Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate Systems Science at UNSW. “It’s an investment with many public benefits for us and the rest of the world, that every Australian can be proud of.”