The agricultural impact of climate change would be a little more straightforward, if it occurred in a world where crops were free of their microbes. Research published [August 5] has found that in this hypothetical landscape, rising global temperatures will boost global agricultural productivity, partly by opening up new arable lands near the poles that were once too frigid for farming.
But this outcome is oversimplified, says study author Dan Bebber, an ecologist at the University of Exeter in the U.K. Global warming will also increase the spread of plant diseases, according to results published in the same study in Nature Climate Change. These plant pathogens may undermine any potential crop yield increases that arise from climate change.
“Tackling pests and diseases is one way of making agriculture more efficient,” he says. However, reining in the spread of parasites will be complicated. Common strategies often come with the knock-on effects, such as increased fungal resistance from fungicide overuse. “Societies have to make decisions about disease [and] pest control—what people are willing to spend and how to do it,” he says.