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

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Abstract

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.

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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.

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Acknowledgements

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 (https://ean.polleninfo.eu), the French aerobiology network RNSA (http://www.pollens.fr), 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.

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Contributions

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.

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Correspondence to Lynda Hamaoui-Laguel or Robert Vautard.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2652

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