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Emergent constraint on crop yield response to warmer temperature from field experiments


Responses of global crop yields to warmer temperatures are fundamental to sustainable development under climate change but remain uncertain. Here, we combined a global dataset of field warming experiments (48 sites) for wheat, maize, rice and soybean with gridded global crop models to produce field-data-constrained estimates on responses of crop yield to changes in temperature (ST) with the emergent-constraint approach. Our constrained estimates show with >95% probability that warmer temperatures would reduce yields for maize (−7.1 ± 2.8% K−1), rice (−5.6 ± 2.0% K−1) and soybean (−10.6 ± 5.8% K−1). For wheat, ST was 89% likely to be negative (−2.9 ± 2.3% K−1). Uncertainties associated with modelled ST were reduced by 12–54% for the four crops but data constraints do not allow for further disentangling ST of different crop types. A key implication for impact assessments after the Paris Agreement is that direct warming impacts alone will reduce major crop yields by 3–13% under 2 K global warming without considering CO2 fertilization effects and adaptations. Even if warming was limited to 1.5 K, all major producing countries would still face notable warming-induced yield reduction. This yield loss could be partially offset by projected benefits from elevated CO2, whose magnitude remains uncertain, and highlights the challenge to compensate it by autonomous adaptation.

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Fig. 1: Comparison of crop yield response to temperature change (ST).
Fig. 2: Emergent constraint of crop yield response to temperature change (ST) based on experimental data.
Fig. 3: Crop yield response to temperature change (ST) and its vulnerability for the top five producers.
Fig. 4: Spatial pattern of field warming experiment sites and their representativeness.

Data availability

Data are available in the main text or the Supplementary Information. Experiment data are available from Crop model data are available from

Code availability

Computer codes used in this study can be provided by the corresponding author upon request.


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This study was supported by the National Key Research & Development Program of China (2019YFA0607300) and Strategic Priority Research Program (A) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant no. XDA20050101).

Author information




X.W. designed the study. C.Z. collected experiment data and performed the analysis. X.W. and S.P. drafted the paper. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results and to the text.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xuhui Wang.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Table 1 and Figs. 1–8.

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Wang, X., Zhao, C., Müller, C. et al. Emergent constraint on crop yield response to warmer temperature from field experiments. Nat Sustain 3, 908–916 (2020).

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