Sensitivity of global pasturelands to climate variation

Radost Stanimirova, Paulo Arévalo, Robert K. Kaufmann, Victor Wegner Maus, Myroslava Lesiv, Petr Havlík, Mark A. Friedl

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


Pasturelands are globally extensive, sensitive to climate, and support livestock production systems that provide an essential source of food in many parts of the world. In this paper, we integrate information from remote sensing, global climate, and land use databases to improve understanding of the resilience and resistance of this ecologically vulnerable and societally‐critical land use. To characterize the effect of climate on pastureland productivity at global scale, we analyze the relationship between satellite‐derived Enhanced Vegetation Index data from MODIS and gridded precipitation data from CHIRPS at 3‐ and 6‐month time lags. To account for the effects of different production systems, we stratify our analysis by agroecological zones and by rangeland versus mixed crop‐livestock systems. Results show that 14.5% of global pasturelands experienced statistically significant greening or browning trends over the 15‐year study period, with the majority of these locations showing greening. In arid ecosystems, precipitation and lagged vegetation index anomalies explain up to 69% of variation in vegetation productivity in both crop‐livestock and rangeland‐based production systems. Livestock production systems in Australia are least resistant to contemporaneous and short‐term precipitation anomalies, while arid livestock production systems in Latin America are least resilient to short‐term vegetation greenness anomalies. Because many arid regions of the world are projected to experience decreased total precipitation and increased precipitation variability in the coming decades, improved understanding regarding the sensitivity of pasturelands to the joint effects of climate change and livestock production systems is required to support sustainable land management in global pasturelands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1353 - 1366
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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