Increasing importance of precipitation variability on global livestock grazing lands

Lindsey L. Sloat, James S. Gerber, Leah H. Samberg, William K. Smith, Mario Herrero, Laerte G. Ferreira, Cécile M. Godde, Paul C. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations

Abstract

Pastures and rangelands underpin global meat and milk production and are a critical resource for millions of people dependent on livestock for food security 1,2 . Forage growth, which is highly climate dependent 3,4, is potentially vulnerable to climate change, although precisely where and to what extent remains relatively unexplored. In this study, we assess climate-based threats to global pastures, with a specific focus on changes in within- and between-year precipitation variability (precipitation concentration index (PCI) and coefficient of variation of precipitation (CVP), respectively). Relating global satellite measures of vegetation greenness (such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index; NDVI) to key climatic factors reveals that CVP is a significant, yet often overlooked, constraint on vegetation productivity across global pastures. Using independent stocking data, we found that areas with high CVP support lower livestock densities than less-variable regions. Globally, pastures experience about a 25% greater year-to-year precipitation variation (CVP = 0.27) than the average global land surface area (0.21). Over the past century, CVP has generally increased across pasture areas, although both positive (49% of pasture area) and negative (31% of pasture area) trends exist. We identify regions in which livestock grazing is important for local food access and economies, and discuss the potential for pasture intensification in the context of long-term regional trends in precipitation variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-218
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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