Climate change concentrates toxins in plants – bad news for herbivores

Michael Marshall. June 1, 2012. Climate change will create a toxic brew for herbivores. NewScientist.

A warmer world could lead to more concentrated and higher levels of toxins in plants.  Herbivorous animals are also less able to process toxins when they’re warm because their livers function less well. To some extent animals can work around this by eating a wider range of plants (Journal of Comparative Physiology B, DOI: 10.1007/s00360-012-0670-y).

The effect could also apply higher up the food chain – predators often have to deal with toxins produced by their prey, such as scorpion venom.

Nathalie Pettorelli at the Institute of Zoology in London says herbivores in dry regions, such as the Arabian oryx, have a limited range of plants to choose from, so if one becomes too toxic they may have little else to eat.

And just to make things a little more interesting, there is also evidence that plants produce more toxins as temperatures creep up. If that is the case, herbivores face a double whammy.

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