Climate change could cause sudden changes in British vegetation patterns, according to research published in the journal Global Change Biology.
Researchers at the University of Exeter have used models to examine the local impacts of two climate change scenarios across Britain.
The researchers found that even ‘smooth’ climate change could lead to sudden changes in the amount of vegetation produced in some places.
Most of these changes were caused by factors such as warmer, wetter conditions and more CO2 in the atmosphere fertilising plant growth.
Warmer conditions could also cause the soil to dry out, reducing plant productivity and decreasing vegetation rapidly.
Dr Chris Boulton, from the Global Systems Institute (GSI) at the University of Exeter, said: ‘We wanted to find out whether ‘smooth’ climate change might lead to abrupt shifts in vegetation.
‘A lot of research has focussed on ‘tipping points’ in large systems like rainforests and oceans.
‘Our study doesn’t predict abrupt shifts across the whole of Great Britain – but it shows numerous shifts can happen on a localised level.
GSI director professor Tim Lenton added: ‘Up to now, climate-driven abrupt shifts in vegetation have been rare in Britain.
‘Our results should not be taken as specific predictions but they serve to illustrate that it could happen across the country in a changing climate.’
In related news, researchers at the University of Sheffield have said that urban land could be used to improve the UK’s food security by providing fruit and vegetables to 15% of the population.
At the moment, just 16% of fruit and 53% of vegetables sold in the UK are grown domestically, according to the researchers, by putting gardens, suitable green spaces and allotments together it would open up 98 square meters per person in Sheffield for growing food.
This equates to more than four times the space that is currently used for growing food in the UK.
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