Olive Groves Will Meet Mixed Fates With Future Warming

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The doom and gloom of climate change is well-documented: Rising sea levels; infectious diseases on the march; more frequent droughts. But a new study suggests that for olive oil production, climate change will be both a blessing and a curse.

In the Mediterranean Basin, which produces 97 percent of the world’s olive oil, average temperatures are expected to increase 2°C (3.6°F) between 2030 and 2060. Luigi Ponti, a researcher with the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, wondered what that heat spike would mean for olive oil production.

On one hand, olive trees are drought-tolerant, and people have made olive oil in the region since ancient times. On the other hand, no one knows how such rapid warming could affect production.

To find out, he and his colleagues designed a model to predict how a 1.8°C increase in temperature would affect olive growth and yield in the region, and also how the olive fruit fly, the olive producer’s nemesis, would fare.

(Typically, these types of demographic models compare weather data with a species’ geographic distribution to predict how climate change will affect it, but Ponti’s team knew it was important to factor in the fly, since changes in its population can impact olive production.)

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