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Agave as a model CAM crop system for a warming and drying world

By J. Ryan eStewart

Abstract

As climate change leads to drier and warmer conditions in semi-arid regions, growing resource-intensive C3 and C4 crops will become more challenging. Such crops will be subjected to increased frequency and intensity of drought and heat stress. However, agaves, even more than pineapple (Ananas comosus) and prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica and related species), typify highly productive plants that will respond favorably to global warming, both in natural and cultivated settings. With nearly 200 species spread throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Central America, agaves have evolved traits, including crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), that allow them to survive extreme heat and drought. Agaves have been used as sources of food, beverage, and fiber by societies for hundreds of years. The varied uses of Agave, combined with its unique adaptations to environmental stress, warrant its consideration as a model CAM crop. Besides the damaging cycles of surplus and shortage that have long beset the tequila industry, the relatively long maturation cycle of Agave, its monocarpic flowering habit, and unique morphology comprise the biggest barriers to its widespread use as a crop suitable for mechanized production. Despite these challenges, agaves exhibit potential as crops since they can be grown on marginal lands, but with more resource input than is widely assumed. If these constraints can be reconciled, Agave shows considerable promise as an alternative source for food, alternative sweeteners, and even bioenergy. And despite the many unknowns regarding agaves, they provide a means to resolve disparities between natural and human systems in semi-arid regions

Topics: Agave, Ecology, Pollination, CAM, stress physiology, Century plant, Plant culture, SB1-1110
Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.
Year: 2015
DOI identifier: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00684
OAI identifier: oai:doaj.org/article:b6d4ba1cb9484a6490449813b42777fb
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