Climate-tolerant breadfruit may be the food of the future

In the face of climate change, breadfruit may soon be on a dinner plate near you.

Researchers predict that climate change will adversely affect most staple crops, including rice, corn and soybeans, but a new study from Northwestern University found that the breadfruit (a starchy tree nut native to Pacific islands) was found to be relatively unaffected.

Because breadfruit is resilient to projected climate change and particularly well-suited for cultivation in areas of high food insecurity, the Northwestern University team sees breadfruit as a solution to the worsening global hunger crisis. I think it could be part of

The study was published today (August 17) in the journal PLOS Climate.

“Breadfruit is a neglected and underutilized species that happens to be relatively resilient in our climate change projections,” said Daniel Horton of Northwestern University, senior author of the study. increase. “This is good news because some of the other staples we depend on are not as resilient. In very hot conditions some of these staple crops struggle and yields decline. Breadfruit should be considered in food security adaptation strategies when implementing strategies to adapt to climate change.”

Horton is an Assistant Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, where he leads the Climate Change Research Group. Lucy Yang, a former student in Houghton’s lab, is the original author of the paper. For this study, Houghton and Yang collaborated with her breadfruit expert, Nyree Zerega. Nyree Zerega is Director of the Plant Biology and Conservation Program, a partnership between Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

“Breadfruit should be considered in food security adaptation strategies as we implement strategies to adapt to climate change.” — Daniel Horton, climate scientist

Despite having “fruit” in its name, the breadfruit is starchy and seedless and, like potatoes, serves a culinary role. Closely related to jackfruit, it is a nutrient-dense food rich in dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. Steamed, roasted, fried or fermented, breadfruit has been eaten in tropical regions of the world for thousands of years. Breadfruit can also be made into flour for extended shelf life and export.

“Breadfruit trees can live for decades and produce massive amounts of fruit each year,” says Zerega, a conservation scientist at the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Negauni Plant Conservation Science and Behavioral Research Institute. “Some cultures have a tradition of planting a breadfruit tree when a child is born so that the child can eat for the rest of their lives.”

But tropical regions are getting warmer and wetter, so Yang, Horton, and Zerega wanted to see if climate change would affect the breadfruit’s ability to grow.

To conduct the study, researchers first determined the climatic conditions necessary for growing breadfruit. We then examined how these conditions are projected to change in the future (between 2060 and 2080). For future climate predictions, they looked at his two scenarios. Scenarios that are less likely to reflect large emissions of greenhouse gases and scenarios that are more likely to stabilize emissions.

In both scenarios, areas suitable for growing breadfruit were largely unaffected. In the tropics and subtropics, the area suitable for growing breadfruit decreased slightly to 4.4-4.5% he. Researchers also found suitable areas where breadfruit cultivation could be expanded. Although not traditionally cultivated, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the breadfruit tree may provide an important and stable food source.

“Despite the fact that climate changes dramatically in the tropics, the climate is not projected to move breadfruit outside our comfort windows,” Yang said. For example, sub-Saharan Africa can already grow breadfruit, and there are vast swaths of Africa where breadfruit can grow to varying degrees, just not yet widely introduced, and fortunately most varieties Breadfruit are seedless and unlikely to be invasive.”


Area unsuitable for breadfruit cultivation due to climate change

Once established, breadfruit trees can withstand heat and drought much longer than other staple crops, Zerega said. But the benefits don’t stop there. As a perennial crop, it requires less energy input (including water and fertilizer) than crops that need to be replanted every year, and like other trees, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its life. Sequesters carbon.

“Many of the places where the breadfruit grows have high levels of food insecurity,” Yang said. “In many cases, they address food insecurity by importing staple crops such as wheat and rice, but this comes with high environmental costs and carbon footprint. These communities can produce food more locally.”

As climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbate global food insecurity, a team at Northwestern University is working to increase biodiversity while increasing breadfruit and other neglected and underutilized crops. We believe we can increase the production of unprocessed food to make the world’s food system more resilient. of food production.

“Climate change is further emphasizing the need to diversify agriculture, so that the world does not rely on a few crop species to feed a large number of people,” Zerega said. Humans rely heavily on a handful of crops to provide most food, but there are thousands of potential food crops among the approximately 400,000 plant species described. It shows that we need to diversify our agriculture and crops across the board.”

This study, “Breadfruit Cultivation May Contribute to Climate Resilient Low-Latitude Food Systems,” was supported by the Office of the President of Northwestern University.

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