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    Global Warming’s Threat to Rice Cultivation and the Urgent Need for Resilient Varieties

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    Climate change’s grip on our planet manifests not only through intensifying storms and melting ice caps but also in the subtle shifts within our lakes and fields.

    Research now illuminates a new casualty of this environmental upheaval: wild rice, a culturally and nutritionally vital crop for many indigenous communities in North America.

    At the Annual Meeting 2023 in San Francisco, researchers presented stark data showing that wild rice populations are dwindling.Populations of this culturally significant plant have declined by approximately 6%–7% annually in off-reservation rice waters since the 1990s.

    This decline is particularly pronounced in lakes and rivers of the Upper Midwest, including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—where wild rice is not just a plant but a cherished part of Ojibwe and Dakota cultural heritage.

    Climate change is exacting a multifaceted toll on wild rice. Rising early-summer precipitation hampers the plant’s crucial early growth phase, while warmer winters shorten lake ice duration, altering ecosystems in ways that can disadvantage wild rice compared to its aquatic plant competitors.

    Wild rice is an annual plant, growing from a seed each year instead of remaining dormant in winter. Winters in the Midwest are also warming. Lake ice has thinned in recent decades, and ice cover lasts for a shorter period.

    As Joe Graveen, a research collaborator and wild rice program manager, reflects on the stark changes within his lifetime—from 4 or 5 feet of lake ice to being “lucky to get 2 feet”—the palpable shifts in traditional practices become evident.

    The situation, however, is not limited to wild rice. Fluctuating Great Lakes water levels, affected by climate change, pose challenges for the restoration of ecosystems, including those that support wild rice.

    A predictive model could assist coastal communities in adapting to these erratic changes, whether in planning for flood defenses or restoring habitats.It’s part of adapting to life in a warming world.

    A forecast would aid in making weather-related decisions — a common practice, not limited to severe storms, according to Meg Palmsten, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) oceanographer spearheading the development of a similar tool for coastlines nationwide.

    Rice is the primary crop in Asia, supplying a significant portion of dietary energy and employment for over 40 billion people in the region.

    There is a need for further growth in rice production to satisfy the rising demand driven by population growth and economic progress.In Asia, a similar narrative unfolds as global warming threatens the staple crop of rice.

    Simulations suggest that while elevated carbon dioxide levels may boost growth in some regions, excessive heat could cause widespread crop sterility—especially in southeast India, northwest India, parts of Southeast Asia, central China, and south-central to southwestern Japan.

    Developing heat-tolerant rice varieties is paramount to mitigate these effects. Encouragingly, research efforts are underway to identify and introduce traits for heat-stress tolerance and early morning flowering into rice cultivars.

    Several processes occur from anther dehiscence during flowering to seed setting in rice: anther dehiscence, pollen shedding, pollination, pollen germination, fertilization, and the beginning of grain growth. Any failure in these processes results in spikelet sterility.

    Relevant articles:
    Climate Change Threatens the Future of Wild Rice, eos.org
    Water levels in the Great Lakes are swinging bigger and faster. A forecast could help, WUWM 89.7 FM – Milwaukee’s NPR
    Global warming and rice production in Asia: Modeling, impact prediction and adaptation, National Institutes of Health (NIH) (.gov)

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