Plant and Soil

, Volume 335, Issue 1–2, pp 101–115 | Cite as

The opening of Pandora’s Box: climate change impacts on soil fertility and crop nutrition in developing countries

  • Samuel B. St.ClairEmail author
  • Jonathan P. Lynch
Regular Article


Feeding the world’s growing population is a serious challenge. Food insecurity is concentrated in developing nations, where drought and low soil fertility are primary constraints to food production. Many crops in developing countries are supported by weathered soils in which nutrient deficiencies and ion toxicities are common. Many systems have declining soil fertility due to inadequate use of fertility inputs, ongoing soil degradation, and increasingly intense resource use by burgeoning populations. Climate models predict that warmer temperatures and increases in the frequency and duration of drought during the 21st century will have net negative effects on agricultural productivity. The potential effects of climate change on soil fertility and the ability of crops to acquire and utilize soil nutrients is poorly understood, but is essential for understanding the future of global agriculture. This paper explores how rising temperature, drought and more intense precipitation events projected in climate change scenarios for the 21st century might affect soil fertility and the mineral nutrition of crops in developing countries. The effects of climate change on erosion rates, soil organic carbon losses, soil moisture, root growth and function, root-microbe associations and plant phenology as they relate to mineral nutrition are discussed. Our analysis suggests that the negative impacts of climate change on soil fertility and mineral nutrition of crops will far exceed beneficial effects, which would intensify food insecurity, particularly in developing countries.


Drought Erosion Food security Precipitation Soil degradation Soil organic carbon Temperature 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant and Wildlife SciencesBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  2. 2.Department of HorticultureThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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