Narrowing uncertainties in the effects of elevated CO2 on crops


Plant responses to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, together with projected variations in temperature and precipitation will determine future agricultural production. Estimates of the impacts of climate change on agriculture provide essential information to design effective adaptation strategies, and develop sustainable food systems. Here, we review the current experimental evidence and crop models on the effects of elevated CO2 concentrations. Recent concerted efforts have narrowed the uncertainties in CO2-induced crop responses so that climate change impact simulations omitting CO2 can now be eliminated. To address remaining knowledge gaps and uncertainties in estimating the effects of elevated CO2 and climate change on crops, future research should expand experiments on more crop species under a wider range of growing conditions, improve the representation of responses to climate extremes in crop models, and simulate additional crop physiological processes related to nutritional quality.

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Fig. 1: Overview of the eCO2 experiments.
Fig. 2: Yield responses to eCO2 as measured in two FACE experiments and simulated by crop models.


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We thank EC-JRC for hosting the ‘CO2 Effects on Crops: Current Understanding, Modeling Needs, and Challenges’ workshop held in Ispra, Italy (8–10 October 2018), co-sponsored by AgMIP. S.A. acknowledges support by the CGIAR research programme on wheat agri-food systems (CRP WHEAT) and the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture. T.A.M.P. acknowledges the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (paper no. 50). C.R. acknowledges the AgMIP Coordination Unit at Columbia University Earth Institute. F.N.T. acknowledges funding from the FAO Regular Programme. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of FAO and other organizations.

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A.T. and D.D. coordinated this community effort and share first authorship. All of the authors contributed to reviewing and interpreting the available literature, and writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andrea Toreti or Delphine Deryng.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1 and 3, Figs. 1 and 2, and discussion.

Supplementary Table 2

List and details of all identified eCO2 experiments shown in Fig. 1.

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Toreti, A., Deryng, D., Tubiello, F.N. et al. Narrowing uncertainties in the effects of elevated CO2 on crops. Nat Food 1, 775–782 (2020).

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