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Title: Climate Change, Aerobiology, and Public Health in the Northeast United States

item Ziska, Lewis

Submitted to: Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/1/2007
Publication Date: 6/1/2008
Citation: Ziska, L.H., Epstein, P.B., Rogers, C.A. 2008. Climate Change, Aerobiology, and Public Health in the Northeast United States. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change. 13:607-613.

Interpretive Summary: Carbon dioxide represents the raw material (carbon) needed for plant growth. As carbon dioxide increases in the air as a result of industrialization and de-forestation, the growth of many plant species is likely to be stimulated globally. While there are a number of crop plants that could respond positively to such a change (i.e. increased growth, yield), there are also a number of other plants that could negatively impact human society if their growth increases. One such group of plants are those which produce pollen and allergens; specifically, plants like ragweed, lambsquarters, oak, maple, etc. In this review, we examine the impact of changing carbon dioxide and temperature levels on the growth and pollen production of these plant species. In addition, we touch briefly on the role plants play as a source of biomass for decomposition by fungi, the rate of fungal decomposition, and how this may increase the rate of spore production by such fungi. Overall, there are an increasing number of both field and laboratory experiments suggesting that increasing carbon dioxide as well as increasing temperatures are likely to influence pollen/spore load and associated allergies. While the data presented here are applicable to environments typical of the Northeastern United States, the information should be of benefit to farmers, health care providers, ecologists and policy makers.

Technical Abstract: The epidemiological implications with respect to climate change and public health (e.g. shifts in disease vectors) are beginning to be acknowledged. Less recognized however, are the potential links between climate, plant biology and public health. In addition to being affected by climate (e.g. temperature determines plant range), carbon dioxide (CO2) represents the raw material needed for photosynthesis and its rapid increase in the atmosphere is expected to stimulate plant growth. While there are a number of means by which plant biology intersects with human health (e.g. plant nutrition), one of the most widely recognized is aerobiology; specifically, the ability of plants to both produce pollen and to serve as a substrate for molds/fungi (e.g. sporulation). The current review represents an initial attempt to coalesce what is known regarding the likely impacts of climate/CO2 on plant pollen/fungal spores and associated allergic disease that are, or could be, specific to the Northeast United States. Although the current results indicate a number of potentially unfavorable effects, we wish to stress that the current data are based on a small number of experiments. Additional data are crucial to both reduce epidemiological uncertainty and to derive a robust set of mitigation/adaptation strategies.