Agronomy for Sustainable Development

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 31–44

Adaptation of grain legumes to climate change: a review


  • Jens D. Berger
    • CSIRO Plant Industry
  • Tom Warkentin
    • Department of Plant Sciences, Crop Development CentreUniversity of Saskatchewan
  • Senthold Asseng
    • CSIRO Plant Industry
  • Pasala Ratnakumar
  • K. Poorna Chandra Rao
    • ICRISAT-Nairobi
  • Pooran M. Gaur
  • Nathalie Munier-Jolain
    • INRA, Agro-Sup Dijon, UMR102, Genetics and Ecophysiology of Grain Legumes
  • Annabelle Larmure
    • INRA, Agro-Sup Dijon, UMR102, Genetics and Ecophysiology of Grain Legumes
  • Anne-Sophie Voisin
    • INRA, Agro-Sup Dijon, UMR102, Genetics and Ecophysiology of Grain Legumes
  • Hari C. Sharma
  • Suresh Pande
  • Mamta Sharma
  • Lakshman Krishnamurthy
  • Mainassara Abdou Zaman
Review Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s13593-011-0020-6

Cite this article as:
Vadez, V., Berger, J.D., Warkentin, T. et al. Agron. Sustain. Dev. (2012) 32: 31. doi:10.1007/s13593-011-0020-6


Humanity is heading toward the major challenge of having to increase food production by about 50% by 2050 to cater for an additional three billion inhabitants, in a context of arable land shrinking and degradation, nutrient deficiencies, increased water scarcity, and uncertainty due to predicted climatic changes. Already today, water scarcity is probably the most important challenge, and the consensual prediction of a 2–4°C degree increase in temperature over the next 100 years will add new complexity to drought research and legume crop management. This will be especially true in the semi-arid tropic areas, where the evaporative demand is high and where the increased temperature may further strain plant–water relations. Hence, research on how plants manage water use, in particular, on leaf/root resistance to water flow will be increasingly important. Temperature increase will variably accelerate the onset of flowering by increasing thermal time accumulation in our varieties, depending on their relative responses to day length, ambient, and vernalizing temperature, while reducing the length of the growing period by increasing evapotranspiration. While the timeframe for these changes (>10–20 years) may be well in the realm of plant adaptation within breeding programs, there is a need for today’s breeding to understand the key mechanisms underlying crop phenology at a genotype level to better balance crop duration with available soil water and maximize light capture. This will then be used to re-fit phenology to new growing seasons under climate change conditions. The low water use efficiency, i.e., the amount of biomass or grain produced per unit of water used, under high vapor pressure deficit, although partly offset by an increased atmospheric CO2 concentration, would also require the search of germplasm capable of maintaining high water use efficiency under such conditions. Recent research has shown an interdependence of C and N nutrition in the N performance of legumes, a balance that may be altered under climate change. Ecophysiological models will be crucial in identifying genotypes adapted to these new growing conditions. An increased frequency of heat waves, which already happen today, will require the development of varieties capable of setting and filling seeds at high temperature. Finally, increases in temperature and CO2 will affect the geographical distribution of pests, diseases, and weeds, presenting new challenges to crop management and breeding programs.


Climate changeDroughtTemperature increaseVapor pressure deficitCrop phenologyC/N balanceSimulation modelingClimate variabilityPestsDisease

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© INRA and Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011