Since domestication of crop species began 12 000 years ago, extensive plant breeding and selection have greatly enhanced the productivity and quality of crops, but resulted in limited diversity compared with wild plants. The modern strawberry is about 200 years old, with intensive breeding in the past several decades improving yield and quality. Most of the current cultivars are based on a few parents or ancestral lines, with relatively narrow genetic diversity.
This narrow diversity presents a risk to industry’s ability to adapt to future climate scenarios where we expect to see different environmental conditions, such as increased carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations and increased average temperatures. Studies in several other crops have shown that there is an initial increase in productivity due to elevated CO2 supporting increased photosynthesis and plant growth, then a decrease due to the speed of temperature increases impacting other growth factors. Most of the research effort has been in the major grain crops such as wheat and rice as they form a significant part of the global diet, with recent efforts focusing on the development of new cultivars suited for production in a warming climate.
In addition to developing more heat-tolerant strawberry varieties, Queensland Government research is exploring strawberry characteristics that support productivity in a future climate. This includes testing whether decreases in leaf area and increases in photosynthesis per leaf area will provide higher yields by reducing the plant’s water loss in a warmer climate, and allowing the plant to direct more energy to growing fruit.