Climatic Change

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 111-141

First online:

Environmental change in grasslands: Assessment using models

  • William J. PartonAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
  • , Dennis S. OjimaAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
  • , David S. SchimelAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State UniversityNCAR

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Modeling studies and observed data suggest that plant production, species distribution, disturbance regimes, grassland biome boundaries and secondary production (i.e., animal productivity) could be affected by potential changes in climate and by changes in land use practices. There are many studies in which computer models have been used to assess the impact of climate changes on grassland ecosystems. A global assessment of climate change impacts suggest that some grassland ecosystems will have higher plant production (humid temperate grasslands) while the production of extreme continental steppes (e.g., more arid regions of the temperate grasslands of North America and Eurasia) could be reduced substantially. All of the grassland systems studied are projected to lose soil carbon, with the greatest losses in the extreme continental grassland systems. There are large differences in the projected changes in plant production for some regions, while alterations in soil C are relatively similar over a range of climate change projections drawn from various General Circulation Models (GCM's). The potential impact of climatic change on cattle weight gains is unclear. The results of modeling studies also suggest that the direct impact of increased atmospheric CO2 on photosynthesis and water use in grasslands must be considered since these direct impacts could be as large as those due to climatic changes. In addition to its direct effects on photosynthesis and water use, elevated CO2 concentrations lower N content and reduce digestibility of the forage.