Velocity of temperature and flowering time in wheat – assisting breeders to keep pace with climate change


By accelerating crop development, warming climates may result in mismatches between key sensitive growth stages and extreme climate events, with severe consequences for crop yield and food security. Using recent estimates of gene responses to vernalization and photoperiod in wheat, we modelled the flowering times of all ‘potential’ genotypes as influenced by the velocity of climate change across the Australian wheatbelt. In the period 1957–2010, seasonal increases in temperature of 0.012 °C yr−1 were recorded and changed flowering time of a mid-season wheat genotype by an average −0.074 day yr−1, with flowering ‘velocity’ of up to 0.95 km yr−1 towards the coastal edges of the wheatbelt; this is an estimate of how quickly the given genotype would have to be ‘moved’ across the landscape to maintain its original flowering time. By 2030, these national changes are projected to accelerate by up to 3-fold for seasonal temperature and by up to 5-fold for flowering time between now and 2030, with average national shifts in flowering time of 0.33 and 0.41 day yr−1 between baseline and the worst climate scenario tested for 2030 and 2050, respectively. Without new flowering alleles in commercial germplasm, the life cycle of wheat crops is predicted to shorten by 2 weeks by 2030 across the wheatbelt for the most pessimistic climate scenario. While current cultivars may be otherwise suitable for future conditions, they will flower earlier due to warmer temperatures. To allow earlier sowing to escape frost, heat and terminal drought, and to maintain current growing period of early-sown wheat crops in the future, breeders will need to develop and/or introduce new genetic sources for later flowering, more so in the eastern part of the wheatbelt.

Global Change Biology
Bangyou Zheng
Bangyou Zheng
Data Scientist / Digital Agronomist

a research scientist of digital agriculture at the CSIRO.