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Dandelions, Poison Ivy Grow With Global Warming

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Dandelions, Poison Ivy Grow With Global Warming

Environment

Dandelions, Poison Ivy Grow With Global Warming

Dandelions, Poison Ivy Grow With Global Warming

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A pair of new studies shows dandelions and poison ivy are expected to thrive as carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for climate change, builds up in the atmosphere.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

If you hate poison ivy - and many of us do - or dandelions, you might not want to hear this next story. According to a pair of new studies, both of these annoying plants are expected to thrive as carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for climate change, builds up in the atmosphere.

NPR's John Nielsen has more.

JOHN NIELSEN: First, the dandelion study, which appears in the current edition of the journal Weed Science. It's the work of a group of scientists at a place called Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Basically, the scientists grew a lot of dandelions in their lab. One half of these plants grew in air no different from the stuff we're breathing at this very moment, but the other half were raised in the kind of air people might be breathing 50 years from now. It had double the current levels of carbon dioxide.

Biologist Xianzhong Wang is one of the authors of the study. Here's the executive summary of his findings.

Mr. XIANZHONG WANG (Biologist, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis): We are going to have a bigger problem with dandelions in the future.

NIELSEN: Wang says dandelions exposed to extra CO2 do more than multiply more quickly. They also do a lot of bulking up. Think of weeds on steroids.

Mr. WANG: More flowers, bigger flowers, taller flowers and the biggest parachutes.

NIELSEN: That means lots more seeds and lots more baby dandelions. In other words, if you're one of those people who can't stand the sight of yellow flowers in your otherwise perfect lawn, get ready to spend a lot more time weeding.

But when you do, be extra careful when you get near the poison ivy. That's the gist of another study in Weed Science. It reports that poison ivy also thrives on CO2. The authors of this study, a team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, found that poison ivy is now growing faster than it did 50 years ago, probably because there is more CO2 in the air. The research team also found that rising CO2 levels make poison ivy plants produce more of the chemicals that make humans itch like crazy.

These two papers may not be good news for people, but for lots of birds and wild animals it's different. To those creatures, these plants are not weeds but food.

John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington.

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