Semi-arid grazing systems and climate change: a survey of present modelling potential and future needs.

Published online
02 May 2007
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Tietjen, B. & Jeltsch, F.
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Sustainable land use under climate change requires detailed knowledge of the system dynamics. This applies particularly for the management of domestic livestock in semi-arid and arid grazing systems, where the risk of degradation is high and likely climate change may have a strong impact. A suitable way to assess potential future trends of these complex systems is through the application of simulation models. We reviewed 41 models published between 1995 and 2005 simulating semi-arid and arid livestock grazing systems. The models were categorized according to the model aim and type, their temporal and spatial scale, and several indicators of model complexity. Additionally, we developed a list of model requirements for adequately simulating the effects of climate change. Based on these requirements, we evaluated the potential of current models to simulate impacts of climate change and determine important shortcomings. Three general model types could be distinguished, namely state and transition, difference and differential equation, and rule-based models. Over time, we found that the number of models aiming to improve management strategies increased, while there were fewer models that aimed to understand system dynamics. This was accompanied by a trend to simplify model descriptions of hydrological relationships. Important shortcomings of current models included the impact of increased CO2 levels on plant productivity and the ability to resolve changes in intra-annual precipitation patterns. The consideration of both external drivers is crucial under climate change, hence sustainable long-term decision making is currently lacking important information. Synthesis and applications. Sustainable livestock management in semi-arid and arid systems requires knowledge about effects of future climate change to adjust livestock density adequately. Producers' experiences from current weather conditions are not necessarily transferable to future conditions, thus models could help to support management. However, an analysis of current models has shown that few existing models are able to assess the impacts of the predicted climate change. Therefore, we call for the development of new dynamic grazing models that provide land managers with the necessary tools to face the threat of future climate changes.

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