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  Eur.J.Hortic.Sci. 81 (2) 63-77 | DOI: 10.17660/eJHS.2016/81.2.1
ISSN 1611-4426 print and 1611-4434 online | © ISHS 2016 | European Journal of Horticultural Science | Original article

Assessing air temperature trends in Mesoamerica and their implications for the future of horticulture

J.D.H. Keatinge1, P. Imbach2, D.R. Ledesma1, J. d’A. Hughes1, F.J.D. Keatinge3, J. Nienhuis4, P. Hanson1, A.W Ebert1 and S. Kumar1
1AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center, Shanhua, Tainan, Taiwan
2CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center), Climate Change Program, Turrialba, Cartago, Costa Rica
3Department of Geography, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
4College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA

Average air temperature variation in the period 1975–2011 was analyzed across 34 locations from a broad range of Mesoamerican countries with the view to better inform agricultural scientists of what changes to expect up to, and including, the year 2025. Such changes are likely to influence a range of constraints to agricultural and horticultural productivity and therefore ensuring such estimates are as robust as possible is critical to guide breeders, pathologists, entomologists and agronomists in the region effectively. A surprising variability in temperature trends were elicited for the region with increases ranging from the equivalent of 0 to >4°C per hundred years but these trends were not associated with either the geographical positioning of the locations with reference to the Central Cordillera nor were they associated with surface elevation which ranged across sites from 0 to around 2,000 m. In Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama there were sites in each country showing both increases in average air temperature and also sites showing no apparent change over the period 1975–2011. AVRDC and CATIE are promulgating the concept of ‘healthy landscapes’ in Mesoamerica and as such both Centers seek to ensure the greater local production and consumption of nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables which are required to play an important role in combating the pervasive malnutrition still found amongst disadvantaged populations in the region. In addition, the most common vegetable crops of the region presently have yields that are seriously impaired by viruses, diseases and insects. All of these constraints are likely to be further exacerbated by increases in air temperature by 2025. Farmers respond to these growing challenges by spraying increasing amounts of pesticides, often in excessive amounts. Thus to create a more healthy environment for farm families, with less need for spraying, and to relieve crops of the unnecessary burden of diseases and insects which are compromising their natural yield potential – much more investment will be needed into horticultural research and development extension in the region, particularly in building the capacity of regional vegetable scientists in both the public and private sectors. Lines with better heat and drought tolerance and with improved resistance to the common viruses and diseases are already available from AVRDC’s breeders and CATIE’s horticulturalists. More consistent and extensive field testing and seed production of this material at regional hotspot locations will be required to tailor these appropriately to Mesoamerican countries. The means to make such improved seed widely available from local sources to poor farming communities across the region must also be a first priority as current imported seed is both expensive and often ill-adapted.

Keywords climate uncertainty, vegetable breeding, tomato production, site variability

Significance of this study

What is already known on this subject?

  • In Mesoamerica relevant knowledge to this paper has been derived essentially from studies on maize and other non-vegetable crops. Increasing temperature and more erratic rainfall will likely reduce vegetable productivity and profitability for small-scale farmers.
What are the new findings?
  • Considerable variability in annual temperature trends between locations has been elicited; these need to be taken into account if medium-term projections of vegetable productivity are to be realistic.
What is the expected impact on horticulture?
  • Future temperature variability will influence biotic pressures in vegetables substantially and these factors must be accounted for in future breeding, agronomy and postharvest programs in Mesoamerica.

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Received: 11 March 2016 | Revised: 14 March 2016 | Accepted: 15 March 2016 | Published: 25 April 2016 | Available online: 25 April 2016

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