Climatic Change

, Volume 112, Issue 3–4, pp 925–943 | Cite as

Interacting effects of vegetation, soils and management on the sensitivity of Australian savanna rangelands to climate change

  • Nicholas P. Webb
  • Chris J. Stokes
  • Joe C. Scanlan


There is an increasing need to understand what makes vegetation at some locations more sensitive to climate change than others. For savanna rangelands, this requires building knowledge of how forage production in different land types will respond to climate change, and identifying how location-specific land type characteristics, climate and land management control the magnitude and direction of its responses to change. Here, a simulation analysis is used to explore how forage production in 14 land types of the north-eastern Australian rangelands responds to three climate change scenarios of +3°C, +17% rainfall; +2°C, −7% rainfall; and +3°C, −46% rainfall. Our results demonstrate that the controls on forage production responses are complex, with functional characteristics of land types interacting to determine the magnitude and direction of change. Forage production may increase by up to 60% or decrease by up to 90% in response to the extreme scenarios of change. The magnitude of these responses is dependent on whether forage production is water or nitrogen (N) limited, and how climate changes influence these limiting conditions. Forage production responds most to changes in temperature and moisture availability in land types that are water-limited, and shows the least amount of change when growth is restricted by N availability. The fertilisation effects of doubled atmospheric CO2 were found to offset declines in forage production under 2°C warming and a 7% reduction in rainfall. However, rising tree densities and declining land condition are shown to reduce potential opportunities from increases in forage production and raise the sensitivity of pastures to climate-induced water stress. Knowledge of these interactions can be applied in engaging with stakeholders to identify adaptation options.


Climate Change Scenario Vapour Pressure Deficit Climate Sensitivity Land Type Climate Type 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We acknowledge the support of Greg McKeon and Giselle Whish in providing access to the GRASP model and model parameterisation files. We thank Mark Howden, Andrew Moore and the anonymous reviewers for their comments which have significantly improved the quality of the manuscript. This work was supported in part by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Climate Change Research Program.

Supplementary material

10584_2011_236_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (9 kb)
Online Resource 1 Land type functional characteristics used to parameterise the GRASP model to represent 14 land types across the Queensland rangelands and to interpret drivers of the sensitivity of forage production to climate change. (PDF 9.23 kb)
10584_2011_236_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (227 kb)
Online Resource 2 Scatter plots showing the influence of factors related to land types on percentage changes in simulated mean annual forage production under different climate change scenarios. Shown are the effects of land type differences in (a) land type transpiration efficiencies under the hotter and wetter climate change scenario (HW); (b) total maximum plant available soil water (MPAW) under the warmer and drier scenario (WD); and (c) maximum potential pasture yield under the hotter and drier scenario (HD). The boxes in part (b) highlight differences in the land type functional characteristics separating the outliers from land types with similar total MPAW. Note that the scale of the Y-axis differs among panels. (PDF 226 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas P. Webb
    • 1
  • Chris J. Stokes
    • 1
  • Joe C. Scanlan
    • 2
  1. 1.CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship and CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesAitkenvaleAustralia
  2. 2.Department of EmploymentEconomic Development and InnovationWilsontonAustralia

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