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Cottongrass blows in the wind at the edge of Etivlik Lake, Alaska. Western Arctic National Parklands / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tara Lohan

Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.

Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.

"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."

Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.

It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.

Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.

Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.

One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.

The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.

They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.

"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."

That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.

And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.

"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."

Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.

"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.

The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.

"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."


Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

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Water trickles down a hillside among moss next to the entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault during a summer heat wave as mountains behind stand devoid of snow on Svalbard archipelago on July 29 in Longyearbyen, Norway. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

By Johnny Wood

What better place to build a Doomsday Vault than the remote, snow-covered islands of Norway's Arctic Svalbard? Sitting around 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole, the facility is buried in permafrost to protect the precious seed samples housed there. But a freak heatwave is causing the region's ice to melt.

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Svalbard Global Seed Vault or the 'doomsday vault' is seen above. Global Crop Diversity Trust / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Cherokee Nation will save seeds from the "three-sisters" crops in the Arctic "doomsday vault," making it the first Native American tribe to ensure culturally emblematic crops will be preserved for the future, as The Guardian reported.

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Keisha Cameron's son Abraham on their farm, High Hog. Caleb Jones / Food Well Alliance

By Robynne Boyd

Winter is waning at High Hog Farms, which sits on five acres about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta. The farm's 21 raised beds have been prepped and await the growing season. Hens are laying eggs, chicks are hatching and a new angora bunny named Langston has joined the farm as its future buck. Along with the resident sheep, his offspring will be sheared for wool. Soon enough, all that fluff will be on sale at a local farmers' market alongside High Hog's herbs, fruits, vegetables, poultry and pork. This is how Keisha Cameron nourishes her family and neighbors.

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Dusk at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Frode Bjorshol / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Eoin Higgins

Just over a decade after it first opened, the world's "doomsday vault" of seeds is imperiled by climate change as the polar region where it's located warms faster than any other area on the planet.

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By Kelly Magyarics

Growing up in a family of gardening enthusiasts, Tobin Shea recalls devouring the pages of seeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables every time his grandparents received a new issue of the Burpee seed catalog. "I was always fascinated with gardening and being able to enjoy the fruits of one's labor," said the bar director at Redbird, a 120-seat Modern American restaurant in Los Angeles. "I've always felt inspired by the catalog's mission to encourage subscribers to grow their own produce at home."

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Alexander Spacher

By Nancy Castaldo

Wheat, maize, rice ... repeat. Those three starchy plants provide about half of all the calories we consume. What's more, of the 12,000 plant species that can be used for human food, only about 150 are cultivated. And that heavy reliance on a limited number of crops poses a serious risk when it comes to our food security. We can look back to the devastation of the Irish potato famine to see the importance of crop diversity. A million people died because a blight killed just one species of potato—the Irish lumper.

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Bt cotton. Abhishek Srivastava / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In an another legal blow to Monsanto, India's Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the Delhi High Court's ruling that the seed giant cannot claim patents for Bollgard and Bollgard II, its genetically modified cotton seeds, in the country.

Monsanto's chief technology officer Robert Fraley, who just announced that he and other top executives are stepping down from the company after Bayer AG's multi-billion dollar takeover closes, lamented the news.

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Nonprofits around the country are working to ensure access to heirloom, open-pollinated seeds for generations to come. Mazzam / Shutterstock

Once the work of public researchers, plant breeding is now dominated by a handful of massive corporations, but there are still a variety of nonprofit organizations working to preserve biodiversity and ensure access to heirloom, open-pollinated seeds for generations to come. Here is a roundup of our favorites, including a few that sell seeds in order to raise funds—so you can support a good cause while doing your spring seed shopping.

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Nestled in the Svalbard archipelago lies a small unassuming-yet-sturdy building housing the world's largest collection of crop diversity. Crop Trust

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle—also known as the "doomsday vault" safeguarding the world's most diverse collection of seeds—now holds 1,059,646 unique crop varieties after receiving more than 70,000 samples on Monday.

Depositors from 23 seed banks around the world braved sub-zero temperatures to deliver duplicate seeds of vital staples such as rice, wheat and maize; black-eyed pea, a major protein source in Africa and South Asia; and samples of sorghum, pearl millet and pigeon pea. Several lesser-known crops such as the Estonian onion potato and the Bambara groundnut, a drought-tolerant crop being developed in Africa, also made the journey.

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Nestled in the Svalbard archipelago lies a small unassuming-yet-sturdy building created to last forever. While it may look minimal, this building is one of the most important in the world because it holds the key to continual human survival. It houses the world's largest—and most secure—collection of crop diversity. Photo credit: Crop Trust / GoPro

A major seed deposit critical to ensuring global food security was made to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle on Wednesday.

Despite a backdrop of geopolitical volatility, nearly 50,000 samples of seeds from seed collections in Benin, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Netherlands, the U.S, Mexico, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus and the U.K have traveled to the vault on the Svalbard archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole on Wednesday for long-term safekeeping.

The Crop Trust

The preparation and shipment of seeds to the facility has been funded in-part by the Crop Trust, the only organization working worldwide to create, fund and manage an efficient and effective global system of seed collections.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the world's largest collection of agricultural biodiversity, is a safe and secure vault supported by the Crop Trust which can store up to 4.5 million samples of crops from all over the world. By preserving duplicate samples of seeds held in gene banks worldwide, the vault provides a "fail safe" insurance against loss of crop diversity caused by climate change, natural disaster or war.

"Today's [Wednesday] seed deposit at Svalbard supported by the Crop Trust shows that despite political and economic differences in other arenas, collective efforts to conserve crop diversity and produce a global food supply for tomorrow continue to be strong," Marie Haga, executive director of the Crop Trust, said when speaking from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

"Together, the nations that have deposited their seed collections account for over a quarter of the world's population. Nearly every country has agreed on the importance on conserving crop diversity through Target 2.5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to conserve agricultural diversity in seed collections. Crop diversity is a fundamental foundation for the end of hunger."

To support the Crop Trust's critical work at Svalbard and gene banks around the world, GoPro for a Cause, GoPro's program dedicated to impact storytelling for non-profit organizations, launched a fundraising initiative and short documentary Wednesday to help the Svalbard Seed Vault ensure ongoing crop conservation.

"We're thrilled to support the Crop Trust's efforts at Svalbard Seed Vault with the launch of GoPro's short documentary that offers a unique, first-person perspective on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and its mission," Erica Stanulis, director of Global Corporate Social Responsibility at GoPro, said.

Our production team has spent more than a year filming, editing and interviewing the team and we're thrilled that the Crop Trust will use this film to share their story with more people.

The Crop Trust provides crucial funding and training for routine gene bank operations, such as quality and information management. Without this basic support for diverse varieties of food crops—like the ones that travel to Svalbard—the future of the world's global food supply is at risk.

The Crop Trust's funding allows millions of plant genetic resources to be recorded and ultimately shared and used around the world to improve agricultural production and prevent loss of crop diversity in the face of natural disasters, climate change and war.

The Crop Trust

A case in point is the work of the International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) previously located in Syria. When fighting struck Aleppo, ICARDA requested its duplicate seeds stored in Svalbard were withdrawn so it could continue its multiplication and breeding efforts in the safer locations of Morocco and Lebanon. Having successfully achieved this through the Crop Trust's support, a portion of the seeds withdrawn in 2015 returned to Svalbard Wednesday.

"Collaboration between the Norwegian government, NordGen, the Crop Trust, CGIAR and ICARDA shows what is possible when international partners come together to find solutions to pressing regional and global challenges," Aly Abousabaa, director general of ICARDA, said. "We are demonstrating today [Wednesday] that we can rely on our gene banks and their safety duplications, despite adverse circumstances, so we can get one step closer to a food secure world."

Seed samples for some of the world's most vital food sources like the potato, sorghum, rice, barley, chickpea, lentil and wheat will be deposited at Svalbard in the coming days, bringing the total number of seed samples at the facility to 930,821.

Several U.S. state attorneys general will reportedly join the federal antitrust investigations of the pending multibillion dollar deals between DuPont and Dow Chemical Co and Bayer AG and Monsanto Co, respectively.

An online petition to EU Commissioner for Competition: Margrethe Vestager, and Head of the antitrust Authority in the U.S. Department of Justice to block the Bayer-Monsanto mega-mergerSumOfUs

Consolidation of these four already massive companies into two juggernauts—not to mention ChemChina's $43 billion planned combination with chemical and seeds company Syngenta that cleared U.S. scrutiny in August—will completely reshape the global seed and pesticide markets. If the deals are approved, Dow Chemical and DuPont will create one of the largest chemical makers in the U.S, while Bayer and Monsanto will form the largest seed and pesticide company in the world.

Reuters reports that about seven states, including California, have joined the probe of Dow's planned merger with DuPont that would create a $130 billion chemical behemoth. A separate group of state attorneys general have also joined the Bayer-Monsanto investigation. The states are reportedly concerned that companies will increase pesticide and herbicide prices for farmers, and will have less incentive to compete and introduce better and cheaper products.

Critics ask, who will hold these agri-tech giants accountable if the deals close? These mega-deals are especially daunting in a time when U.S. farmers are seeing their incomes falling from slumping crop prices.

According to Reuters, the state attorneys general will be able to supply information on how the mergers would affect their jurisdictions and conduct joint calls to gather data from the companies and its critics and supporters of the deals.

"The involvement of the state attorneys general increases scrutiny of the mega deals and will complicate what are already expected to be tough and lengthy reviews by U.S. antitrust enforcers," Reuters wrote.

Consumer groups have also expressed fears that "farmers get paid less for their crops, more pesticides are used and there are fewer options for consumers at the grocery store," as Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, told EcoWatch after the announcement of Bayer's $66 billion acquisition of Monsanto in September.

The state attorneys general will reportedly investigate DuPont's Altacor and Dow's Intrepid, two chemically different but overlapping insecticides applied on high-value crops such as almonds, pistachios, grapes and apples.

Another concern is Bayer and Monsanto's overlapping cotton seeds. Bayer licenses genetic traits that make seeds resistant to the herbicide Liberty, while Monsanto licenses traits that make seeds resistant to its herbicide Roundup.

Monsanto and Bayer control the two top cotton seed brands in the U.S., respectively, the St. Louis Dispatch reported. That's about 70 percent of all cotton acreage in the country.

"One of the worst things you could do is to link Liberty and Roundup in the same company," Peter Carstensen, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin and leading agricultural antitrust expert, told the Dispatch. "There's no incentive for somebody to develop a third alternative."

DuPont and Dow told Reuters in separate statements they expected to win approval for their deal. Bayer said, it's looking forward to "working diligently with regulators to ensure a successful close." Monsanto did not comment.