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Extreme heat effects on wheat senescence in India


An important source of uncertainty in anticipating the effects of climate change on agriculture is limited understanding of crop responses to extremely high temperatures1,2. This uncertainty partly reflects the relative lack of observations of crop behaviour in farmers’ fields under extreme heat. We used nine years of satellite measurements of wheat growth in northern India to monitor rates of wheat senescence following exposure to temperatures greater than 34 °C. We detect a statistically significant acceleration of senescence from extreme heat, above and beyond the effects of increased average temperatures. Simulations with two commonly used process-based crop models indicate that existing models underestimate the effects of heat on senescence. As the onset of senescence is an important limit to grain filling, and therefore grain yields, crop models probably underestimate yield losses for +2 °C by as much as 50% for some sowing dates. These results imply that warming presents an even greater challenge to wheat than implied by previous modelling studies, and that the effectiveness of adaptations will depend on how well they reduce crop sensitivity to very hot days.

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Figure 1: The study region of the IGP in northern India.
Figure 2: The effects of GDD and EDD on GSL in the study area for 2000–2009.
Figure 3: Comparison of MODIS-based responses to crop models.


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We thank the APSIM team for providing their model and S. Hsiang for providing the code to estimate heteroskedasticity- and autocorrelation-consistent standard errors. This work was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and NASA New Investigator grant no. NNX08AV25G to D.B.L.

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D.B.L. conceived the study, D.B.L. and A.S. analysed data, A.S. carried out crop model simulations, and D.B.L., A.S. and J.I.O-M. interpreted results and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to David B. Lobell.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Lobell, D., Sibley, A. & Ivan Ortiz-Monasterio, J. Extreme heat effects on wheat senescence in India. Nature Clim Change 2, 186–189 (2012).

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