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Poison ivy is getting worse with climate change

The plant is known for causing itchy rashes and irritation, but as the Earth’s temperature rises, poison ivy is becoming more abundant and potent.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Warmer temperatures along with higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are making poison ivy grow faster, bigger, and more potent.

Poison ivy is a carbon dioxide loving plant. It thrives at high levels of the greenhouse gas. So as CO2 levels increase, so does the growth of poison ivy.

As a result of climate change, this plant stands to gain greatly. In a six-year study conducted at Duke University, scientists raised carbon dioxide levels in a forest plot to 570 ppm, which is roughly the concentration expected at the end of the 21st century. As a result of high greenhouse gas levels, poison ivy increased its biomass by 67 percent more than poison ivy that did not have elevated carbon dioxide levels.

 In addition to growing faster, poison ivy is also producing more of its active ingredient, urushiol (ur-ru-shi-ol). This oily substance is what causes the itchy rash in humans. With more potent poison ivy, people are more likely to experience severe reactions.

Scientists say that with climate change continuing to worsen, poison ivy will likely become an even bigger problem in the future.

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