Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Effects of climate change and seed dispersal on airborne ragweed pollen loads in Europe

This article has been updated


Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) is an invasive alien species in Europe producing pollen that causes severe allergic disease in susceptible individuals1. Ragweed plants could further invade European land with climate and land-use changes2,3. However, airborne pollen evolution depends not only on plant invasion, but also on pollen production, release and atmospheric dispersion changes. To predict the effect of climate and land-use changes on airborne pollen concentrations, we used two comprehensive modelling frameworks accounting for all these factors under high-end and moderate climate and land-use change scenarios. We estimate that by 2050 airborne ragweed pollen concentrations will be about 4 times higher than they are now, with a range of uncertainty from 2 to 12 largely depending on the seed dispersal rate assumptions. About a third of the airborne pollen increase is due to on-going seed dispersal, irrespective of climate change. The remaining two-thirds are related to climate and land-use changes that will extend ragweed habitat suitability in northern and eastern Europe and increase pollen production in established ragweed areas owing to increasing CO2. Therefore, climate change and ragweed seed dispersal in current and future suitable areas will increase airborne pollen concentrations, which may consequently heighten the incidence and prevalence of ragweed allergy.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Simulated historical and future average annual ragweed pollen counts in grains m−3.
Figure 2: Contributions to pollen count change relative to historical pollens between test and reference simulations for 2050 (RCP 8.5).
Figure 3: Impact of rapid and slow seed dispersal scenarios on simulated ragweed distribution and airborne pollen counts for 2050 (RCP 8.5).
Figure 4: Evolution of average pollen production (in percent) in 2050.

Change history

  • 10 June 2015

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, Dmitry Khvorostyanov's name was incorrectly spelled. This error has been corrected in all versions of the Letter.


  1. Kazinczi, G., Beres, I., Pathy, Z. & Novak, R. Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.): A review with special regards to the results in Hungary: II. Importance and harmful effect, allergy, habitat, allelopathy and beneficial characteristics. Herbologia 9, 93–118 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Essl, F. et al. Biological Flora of the British Isles: Ambrosia artemisiifolia. J. Ecol. (in the press).

  3. Storkey, J., Stratonovitch, P., Chapman, D. S., Vidotto, F. & Semenov, M. A. A process-based approach to predicting the effect of climate change on the distribution of an invasive allergenic plant in Europe. PLoS ONE 9, e88156 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Chauvel, B., Dessaint, F., Cardinal-Legrand, C. & Bretagnolle, F. The historical spread of Ambrosia artemisiifolia L. in France from herbarium records. J. Biogeogr. 33, 665–673 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bullock, J. et al. Assessing and Controlling the Spread and the Effects of Common Ragweed in Europe Report No. ENV.B2/ETU/2010/0037 (EU Commission, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Scalera, R., Genovesi, P., Essl, F. & Rabitsch, W. The Impacts of Invasive Alien Species in Europe Report No. 16 (EEA, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Burbach, G. J. et al. Ragweed sensitization in Europe – GA2LEN study suggests increasing prevalence. Allergy 64, 664–665 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Vogl, G. et al. Modelling the spread of ragweed: Effects of habitat, climate change and diffusion. Eur. Phys. J. Spec. Top. 161, 167–173 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Smolik, M. G. et al. Integrating species distribution models and interacting particle systems to predict the spread of an invasive alien plant. J. Biogeogr. 37, 411–422 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Cunze, S., Leiblein, M. C. & Tackenberg, O. Range expansion of Ambrosia artemisiifolia in Europe is promoted by climate change. ISRN Ecol. 2013, 610126 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Richter, R., Dullinger, S., Essl, F., Leitner, M. & Vogl, M. How to account for habitat suitability in weed management programmes? Biol. Invasions 15, 657–669 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Efstathiou, C., Isukapalli, S. & Georgopoulos, P. A mechanistic modeling system for estimating large scale emissions and transport of pollen and co-allergens. Atmos. Environ. 45, 2260–2276 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Zink, K., Vogel, H., Vogel, B., Magyar, D. & Kottmeier, C. Modeling the dispersion of Ambrosia artemisiifolia L. pollen with the model system COSMO-ART. Int. J. Biometeorol. 56, 669–680 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Prank, M. et al. An operational model for forecasting ragweed pollen release and dispersion in Europe. Agric. For. Meteorol. 182–183, 43–53 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Chapman, D. S., Haynes, D., Beal, S., Essl, F. & Bullock, J. Phenology predicts the native and invasive range limits of common ragweed. Glob. Change Biol. 20, 192–202 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Chuine, I., Garcia de Cortazar Atauri, I., Kramer, K. & Hänninen, H. in Phenology: An Integrative Environmental Science (ed Schwarz, M. D.) 275–293 (Springer, 2013).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. Krinner, G. et al. A dynamic global vegetation model for studies of the coupled atmosphere-biosphere system. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycle 19, GB1015 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Menut, L. et al. CHIMERE 2013: A model for regional atmospheric composition modelling. Geosci. Model Dev. 6, 981–1028 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Vautard, R. et al. The simulation of European heat waves from an ensemble of regional climate models within the EURO-CORDEX project. Clim. Dynam. 41, 2555–2575 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Dufresne, J-L. et al. Climate change projections using the IPSL-CM5 Earth System Model: From CMIP3 to CMIP5. Clim. Dynam. 40, 2123–2165 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Giorgi, F. et al. RegCM4: Model description and preliminary tests over multiple CORDEX domains. Clim. Res. 52, 7–29 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Collins, W. J. et al. Development and evaluation of an Earth-System model-HadGEM2. Geosci. Model Dev. 4, 1051–1075 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Moss, R. H. et al. The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature 463, 747–756 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Ziska, L. H. & Caulfield, F. A. Rising CO2 and pollen production of common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), a known allergy-inducing species: Implications for public health. Aust. J. Plant Physiol. 27, 893–898 (2000).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Reich, P. B. et al. Nitrogen limitation constrains sustainability of ecosystem response to CO2 . Nature 440, 922–925 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Ziska, L. H. et al. Recent warming by latitude associated with increased length of ragweed pollen season in central North America. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 4248–4251 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. El Kelish, A. et al. Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) pollen allergenicity: SuperSAGE transcriptomic analysis upon elevated CO2 and drought stress. BMC Plant Biol. 14, 176 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Brewer, C. E. & Oliver, L. R. Confirmation and resistance mechanisms in glyphosate-resistant common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) in Arkansas. Weed Sci. 57, 567–573 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hurtt, G. C. et al. The underpinnings of land-use history: Three centuries of global gridded land-use transitions, wood harvest activity, and resulting secondary lands. Glob. Change Biol. 12, 1208–1229 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Jacob, et al. EURO-CORDEX: New high-resolution climate change projections for European impact research. Reg. Environ. Change 14, 563–578 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Fumanal, B., Chauvel, B. & Bretagnolle, F. Estimation of pollen and seed production of common ragweed in France. Ann. Agric. Environ. Med. 14, 233–236 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was carried out within the ‘Atopic diseases in changing climate, land use and air quality’ (ATOPICA) FP7 Project, under grant agreement #282687. We are grateful to all pollen data providers from the European Aeroallergen Network (, the French aerobiology network RNSA (, ARPA-Veneto and ARPA-FVG (Italy). We are also grateful to A. Cvitković and N. Periš from the Croatian Institute of Public Health (counties of Brodsko-Posavska and Splitsko-Dalmatinska, respectively), B. Stjepanović from the Department of Environmental Protection and Health Ecology Institute of Public Health ‘Andrija Štampar’ (Zagreb) and R. Peternel from the Associate-degree college of Velika Gorica, for providing pollen measurements. We thank J-P. Besancenot for critical reading of the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



L.H-L. led the study, designed and conducted the CHIMERE experiments. L.L. and F.S. developed and conducted the parallel experiments with RegCM. D.K. developed the pollen version of CHIMERE, and N.V. developed the pollen production module in ORCHIDEE. R.V. coordinated the pollen modelling ATOPICA work package (WP2) and M.M.E. coordinated the ATOPICA project. J.S. and M.A.S. provided the methodology and climate habitat suitability results. I.C. provided the PMP phenology model and contributed to the development of the ragweed phenological model. F.E. provided advice and helped in designing the experiments. M.T. provided the French monitoring data and advice during the study. A.C. provided advice and contributed to the WRF EURO-CORDEX simulations production and analysis. A.S. provided the initial version of the phenology modelling approach. All authors contributed to the article writing.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Lynda Hamaoui-Laguel or Robert Vautard.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hamaoui-Laguel, L., Vautard, R., Liu, L. et al. Effects of climate change and seed dispersal on airborne ragweed pollen loads in Europe. Nature Clim Change 5, 766–771 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing