Future soil moisture and temperature extremes imply expanding suitability for rainfed agriculture in temperate drylands

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Year Published: 2017
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Author: John B. Bradford, Daniel R. Schlaepfer, William K. Lauenroth, Charles B. Yackulic, Michael Duniway, Sonia Hall, Gensuo Jia, Khishigbayar Jamiyansharav, Seth M. Munson, Scott D. Wilson & Britta Tietjen
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The distribution of rainfed agriculture, which accounts for approximately ¾ of global croplands, is expected to respond to climate change and human population growth and these responses may be especially pronounced in water limited areas. Because the environmental conditions that support rainfed agriculture are determined by climate, weather, and soil conditions that affect overall and transient water availability, predicting this response has proven difficult, especially in temperate regions that support much of the world’s agriculture. Here, we show that suitability to support rainfed agriculture in temperate dryland climates can be effectively represented by just two daily environmental variables: moist soils with warm conditions increase suitability while extreme high temperatures decrease suitability. 21st century projections based on daily ecohydrological modeling of downscaled climate forecasts indicate overall increases in the area suitable for rainfed agriculture in temperate dryland regions, especially at high latitudes. The regional exception to this trend was Europe, where suitability in temperate dryland portions will decline substantially. These results clarify how rising temperatures interact with other key drivers of moisture availability to determine the sustainability of rainfed agriculture and help policymakers, resource managers, and the agriculture industry anticipate shifts in areas suitable for rainfed cultivation.

URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-13165-x
Volume: 7
Number: 12923
Journal: Scientific Reports
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Publisher: Springer Nature
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-13165-x

Soil moisture, temperature, climate change, agricultural irrigation, drylands, agricultural regions, water availability, rainfed

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