Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Crops


Climate change will cause geographic range shifts for pollinators and major crops, with global implications for food security and rural livelihoods. However, little is known about the potential for coupled impacts of climate change on pollinators and crops. Coffee production exemplifies this issue, because large losses in areas suitable for coffee production have been projected due to climate change and because coffee production is dependent on bee pollination. We modeled the potential distributions of coffee and coffee pollinators under current and future climates in Latin America to understand whether future coffee-suitable areas will also be suitable for pollinators. Our results suggest that coffee-suitable areas will be reduced 73-88% by 2050 across warming scenarios, a decline 46-76% greater than estimated by global assessments. Mean bee richness will decline 8-18% within future coffee-suitable areas, but all are predicted to contain at least 5 bee species, and 46-59% of future coffee-suitable areas will contain 10 or more species. In our models, coffee suitability and bee richness each increase (i.e., positive coupling) in 10-22% of future coffee-suitable areas. Diminished coffee suitability and bee richness (i.e., negative coupling), however, occur in 34-51% of other areas. Finally, in 31-33% of the future coffee distribution areas, bee richness decreases and coffee suitability increases. Assessing coupled effects of climate change on crop suitability and pollination can help target appropriate management practices, including forest conservation, shade adjustment, crop rotation, or status quo, in different regions.

Concepts: Agriculture, Climate, Climate change, Pollination, Bee, Crops


Analysis of organic residues in pottery vessels has been successful in detecting a range of animal and plant products as indicators of food preparation and consumption in the past. However, the identification of plant remains, especially grain crops in pottery, has proved elusive. Extending the spectrum is highly desirable, not only to strengthen our understanding of the dispersal of crops from centres of domestication but also to determine modes of food processing, artefact function and the culinary significance of the crop. Here, we propose a new approach to identify millet in pottery vessels, a crop that spread throughout much of Eurasia during prehistory following its domestication, most likely in northern China. We report the successful identification of miliacin (olean-18-en-3β-ol methyl ether), a pentacyclic triterpene methyl ether that is enriched in grains of common/broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum), in Bronze Age pottery vessels from the Korean Peninsula and northern Europe. The presence of millet is supported by enriched carbon stable isotope values of bulk charred organic matter sampled from pottery vessel surfaces and extracted n-alkanoic acids, consistent with a C4 plant origin. These data represent the first identification of millet in archaeological ceramic vessels, providing a means to track the introduction, spread and consumption of this important crop.

Concepts: Poaceae, Cereal, Neolithic, Crops, Archaeology, Prehistory, Bronze Age, Millet


Despite the rapid adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops by farmers in many countries, controversies about this technology continue. Uncertainty about GM crop impacts is one reason for widespread public suspicion.

Concepts: Agriculture, Genetically modified organism, Crops, Genetically modified food, Genetic engineering, Crop


Temperature is a key seasonal signal that shapes plant growth. Elevated ambient temperature accelerates growth and developmental transitions [1] while compromising plant defenses, leading to increased susceptibility [2, 3]. Suppression of immunity at elevated temperature is at the interface of trade-off between growth and defense [2, 4]. Climate change and the increase in average growth-season temperatures threaten biodiversity and food security [5, 6]. Despite its significance, the molecular mechanisms that link thermosensory growth and defense responses are not known. Here we show that PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 (PIF4)-mediated thermosensory growth and architecture adaptations are directly linked to suppression of immunity at elevated temperature. PIF4 positively regulates growth and development and negatively regulates immunity. We also show that natural variation of PIF4-mediated temperature response underlies variation in the balance between growth and defense among Arabidopsis natural strains. Importantly, we find that modulation of PIF4 function alters temperature sensitivity of defense. Perturbation of PIF4-mediated growth has resulted in temperature-resilient disease resistance. This study reveals a molecular link between thermosensory growth and immunity in plants. Elucidation of the molecular mechanisms that define environmental signal integration is key to the development of novel strategies for breeding temperature-resilient disease resistance in crops.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Natural selection, Agriculture, Temperature, Link, Crops, Defense


Land area devoted to organic agriculture has increased steadily over the last 20 years in the United States, and elsewhere around the world. A primary criticism of organic agriculture is lower yield compared to non-organic systems. Previous analyses documenting the yield deficiency in organic production have relied mostly on data generated under experimental conditions, but these studies do not necessarily reflect the full range of innovation or practical limitations that are part of commercial agriculture. The analysis we present here offers a new perspective, based on organic yield data collected from over 10,000 organic farmers representing nearly 800,000 hectares of organic farmland. We used publicly available data from the United States Department of Agriculture to estimate yield differences between organic and conventional production methods for the 2014 production year. Similar to previous work, organic crop yields in our analysis were lower than conventional crop yields for most crops. Averaged across all crops, organic yield averaged 80% of conventional yield. However, several crops had no significant difference in yields between organic and conventional production, and organic yields surpassed conventional yields for some hay crops. The organic to conventional yield ratio varied widely among crops, and in some cases, among locations within a crop. For soybean (Glycine max) and potato (Solanum tuberosum), organic yield was more similar to conventional yield in states where conventional yield was greatest. The opposite trend was observed for barley (Hordeum vulgare), wheat (Triticum aestevum), and hay crops, however, suggesting the geographical yield potential has an inconsistent effect on the organic yield gap.

Concepts: Agriculture, United States, Wheat, Soybean, Organic farming, Crops, Crop rotation, Agroecology


In the coming decades, continued population growth, rising meat and dairy consumption and expanding biofuel use will dramatically increase the pressure on global agriculture. Even as we face these future burdens, there have been scattered reports of yield stagnation in the world’s major cereal crops, including maize, rice and wheat. Here we study data from ∼2.5 million census observations across the globe extending over the period 1961-2008. We examined the trends in crop yields for four key global crops: maize, rice, wheat and soybeans. Although yields continue to increase in many areas, we find that across 24-39% of maize-, rice-, wheat- and soybean-growing areas, yields either never improve, stagnate or collapse. This result underscores the challenge of meeting increasing global agricultural demands. New investments in underperforming regions, as well as strategies to continue increasing yields in the high-performing areas, are required.

Concepts: Agriculture, Wheat, Cereal, Maize, Yield, Rice, Crops, Crop yield


The current rate of yield gain in crops is insufficient to meet the predicted demands. Capturing the yield boost from heterosis is one of the few technologies that offers rapid gain. Hybrids are widely used for cereals, maize and rice, but it has been a challenge to develop a viable hybrid system for bread wheat due to the wheat genome complexity, which is both large and hexaploid. Wheat is our most widely grown crop providing 20% of the calories for humans. Here, we describe the identification of Ms1, a gene proposed for use in large-scale, low-cost production of male-sterile (ms) female lines necessary for hybrid wheat seed production. We show that Ms1 completely restores fertility to ms1d, and encodes a glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored lipid transfer protein, necessary for pollen exine development. This represents a key step towards developing a robust hybridization platform in wheat.Heterosis can rapidly boost yield in crop species but development of hybrid-breeding systems for bread wheat remains a challenge. Here, Tucker et al. describe the molecular identification of the wheat Ms1 gene and discuss its potential for large-scale hybrid seed production in wheat.

Concepts: Gene, Wheat, Polyploidy, Maize, Rice, Hybrid, Crops, Staple food


Honey bees provide critical pollination services for many agricultural crops. While the contribution of pesticides to current hive loss rates is debated, remarkably little is known regarding the magnitude of risk to bees and mechanisms of exposure during pollination. Here, we show that pesticide risk in recently accumulated beebread was above regulatory agency levels of concern for acute or chronic exposure at 5 and 22 of the 30 apple orchards, respectively, where we placed 120 experimental hives. Landscape context strongly predicted focal crop pollen foraging and total pesticide residues, which were dominated by fungicides. Yet focal crop pollen foraging was a poor predictor of pesticide risk, which was driven primarily by insecticides. Instead, risk was positively related to diversity of non-focal crop pollen sources. Furthermore, over 60% of pesticide risk was attributed to pesticides that were not sprayed during the apple bloom period. These results suggest the majority of pesticide risk to honey bees providing pollination services came from residues in non-focal crop pollen, likely contaminated wildflowers or other sources. We suggest a greater understanding of the specific mechanisms of non-focal crop pesticide exposure is essential for minimizing risk to bees and improving the sustainability of grower pest management programs.

Concepts: Agriculture, Insect, Harvest, Pesticide, Flower, Insecticide, Crops, Crop


Whilst most studies reviewing the reliance of global agriculture on insect pollination advocate increasing the ‘supply’ of pollinators (wild or managed) to improve crop yields, there has been little focus on altering a crop’s ‘demand’ for pollinators.Parthenocarpy (fruit set in the absence of fertilization) is a trait which can increase fruit quantity and quality from pollinator-dependent crops by removing the need for pollination.Here we present a meta-analysis of studies examining the extent and effectiveness of parthenocarpy-promoting techniques (genetic modification, hormone application and selective breeding) currently being used commercially, or experimentally, on pollinator-dependent crops in different test environments (no pollination, hand pollination, open pollination).All techniques significantly increased fruit quantity and quality in 18 pollinator-dependent crop species (not including seed and nut crops as parthenocarpy causes seedlessness). The degree to which plants experienced pollen limitation in the different test environments could not be ascertained, so the absolute effect of parthenocarpy relative to optimal pollination could not be determined. Synthesis and applications. Parthenocarpy has the potential to lower a crop’s demand for pollinators, whilst extending current geographic and climatic ranges of production. Thus, growers may wish to use parthenocarpic crop plants, in combination with other environmentally considerate practices, to improve food security and their economic prospects.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fruit, Pollination, Seed, Flower, Pollen, Pollinator, Crops


Wheat, rice, maize, and soybean provide two-thirds of human caloric intake. Assessing the impact of global temperature increase on production of these crops is therefore critical to maintaining global food supply, but different studies have yielded different results. Here, we investigated the impacts of temperature on yields of the four crops by compiling extensive published results from four analytical methods: global grid-based and local point-based models, statistical regressions, and field-warming experiments. Results from the different methods consistently showed negative temperature impacts on crop yield at the global scale, generally underpinned by similar impacts at country and site scales. Without CO2 fertilization, effective adaptation, and genetic improvement, each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields of wheat by 6.0%, rice by 3.2%, maize by 7.4%, and soybean by 3.1%. Results are highly heterogeneous across crops and geographical areas, with some positive impact estimates. Multimethod analyses improved the confidence in assessments of future climate impacts on global major crops and suggest crop- and region-specific adaptation strategies to ensure food security for an increasing world population.

Concepts: Agriculture, Food, Temperature, Food security, World population, Crops, Global warming, Green Revolution