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Adaptation of US maize to temperature variations

Abstract

High temperatures are associated with reduced crop yields1,2, and predictions for future warming3 have raised concerns regarding future productivity and food security4,5,6,7,8. However, the extent to which adaptation can mitigate such heat-related losses remains unclear9,10,11,12,13. Here we empirically demonstrate how maize is locally adapted to hot temperatures across US counties. Using this spatial adaptation as a surrogate for future adaptation, we find that losses to average US maize yields from a 2 °C warming would be reduced from 14% to only 6% and that loss in net production is wholly averted. This result does not account for possible changes in temperature variability or water resources, nor does it account for all possible forms of adaptation14,15,16,17,18, but it does show that adaptation is of first-order importance for predicting future changes in yield. Further research should be undertaken regarding the ability to adapt to a changing climate, including analysis of other crops and regions, the application of more sophisticated models of crop development, and field trials employing artificially increased temperature.

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Figure 1: Sensitivity of maize yield to temperature variations.
Figure 2: The climatological average KDDs versus the sensitivity of yield to KDDs for individual US counties.
Figure 3: Changes in yield from a 2 °C warming.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Stine, M. Gilbert, A. Rhines, N. Arnold, M. Lin, D. Schrag, S. Myers, D. Lobell, W. Schlenker, M. Roberts and J. Foley for their commentary and insights. E.E.B. and P.H. received support from NSF award 0902374 and the Packard Foundation.

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E.E.B. and P.H. contributed equally.

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Correspondence to Ethan E. Butler.

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Butler, E., Huybers, P. Adaptation of US maize to temperature variations. Nature Clim Change 3, 68–72 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1585

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