Comparing mechanistic and empirical approaches to modeling the thermal niche of almond
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Delineating locations that are thermally viable for cultivating high-value crops can help to guide land use planning, agronomics, and water management. Three modeling approaches were used to identify the potential distribution and key thermal constraints on on almond cultivation across the southwestern United States (US), including two empirical species distribution models (SDMs)—one using commonly used bioclimatic variables (traditional SDM) and the other using more physiologically relevant climate variables (nontraditional SDM)—and a mechanistic model (MM) developed using published thermal limitations from field studies. While models showed comparable results over the majority of the domain, including over existing croplands with high almond density, the MM suggested the greatest potential for the geographic expansion of almond cultivation, with frost susceptibility and insufficient heat accumulation being the primary thermal constraints in the southwestern US. The traditional SDM over-predicted almond suitability in locations shown by the MM to be limited by frost, whereas the nontraditional SDM showed greater agreement with the MM in these locations, indicating that incorporating physiologically relevant variables in SDMs can improve predictions. Finally, opportunities for geographic expansion of almond cultivation under current climatic conditions in the region may be limited, suggesting that increasing production may rely on agronomical advances and densifying current almond plantations in existing locations.
KeywordsAgroclimatology Species distribution modeling Phenology Almond
We are appreciative of the almond expertise provided by David Doll, the feedback on early versions of the manuscript from Amber Kerr and Kripa Jagannathan, and the feedback from three anonymous reviewers.. This research was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture competitive grant, award number 2011-68002-30191.
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