Climate change impacts on Australia's rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues

Article


McKeon, G. M., Stone, G. S., Syktus, J. I., Carter, J. O., Flood, N. R., Ahrens, D. G., Bruget, D. N., Chilcott, C. R., Cobon, D. H., Cowley, R. A., Crimp, S. J., Fraser, G. W., Howden, S. M., Johnston, P. W., Ryan, J. G., Stokes, C. J. and Day, K. A.. 2009. "Climate change impacts on Australia's rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues." The Rangeland Journal. 31 (1), pp. 1-29. https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ08068
Article Title

Climate change impacts on Australia's rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues

ERA Journal ID3312
Article CategoryArticle
AuthorsMcKeon, G. M. (Author), Stone, G. S. (Author), Syktus, J. I. (Author), Carter, J. O. (Author), Flood, N. R. (Author), Ahrens, D. G. (Author), Bruget, D. N. (Author), Chilcott, C. R. (Author), Cobon, D. H. (Author), Cowley, R. A. (Author), Crimp, S. J. (Author), Fraser, G. W. (Author), Howden, S. M. (Author), Johnston, P. W. (Author), Ryan, J. G. (Author), Stokes, C. J. (Author) and Day, K. A. (Author)
Journal TitleThe Rangeland Journal
Journal Citation31 (1), pp. 1-29
Number of Pages29
Year2009
PublisherCSIRO Publishing
Place of PublicationMelbourne, Australia
ISSN1036-9872
1834-7541
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ08068
Abstract

Grazing is a major land use in Australia's rangelands. The 'safe' livestock carrying capacity (LCC) required to maintain resource condition is strongly dependent on climate. We reviewed: the approaches for quantifying LCC; current trends in climate and their effect on components of the grazing system; implications of the 'best estimates' of climate change projections for LCC; the agreement and disagreement between the current trends and projections; and the adequacy of current models of forage production in simulating the impact of climate change. We report the results of a sensitivity study of climate change impacts on forage production across the rangelands, and we discuss the more general issues facing grazing enterprises associated with climate change, such as 'known uncertainties' and adaptation responses (e.g. use of climate risk assessment). We found that the method of quantifying LCC from a combination of estimates (simulations) of long-term (>30 years) forage production and successful grazier experience has been well tested across northern Australian rangelands with different climatic regions. This methodology provides a sound base for the assessment of climate change impacts, even though there are many identified gaps in knowledge. The evaluation of current trends indicated substantial differences in the trends of annual rainfall (and simulated forage production) across Australian rangelands with general increases in most of western Australian rangelands (including northern regions of the Northern Territory) and decreases in eastern Australian rangelands and south-western Western Australia. Some of the projected changes in rainfall and temperature appear small compared with year-to-year variability. Nevertheless, the impacts on rangeland production systems are expected to be important in terms of required managerial and enterprise adaptations. Some important aspects of climate systems science remain unresolved, and we suggest that a risk-averse approach to rangeland management, based on the 'best estimate' projections, in combination with appropriate responses to short-term (15 years) climate variability, would reduce the risk of resource degradation. Climate change projections including changes in rainfall, temperature, carbon dioxide and other climatic variables if realised, are likely to affect forage and animal production, and ecosystem functioning. The major known uncertainties in quantifying climate change impacts are: (i) carbon dioxide effects on forage production, quality, nutrient cycling and competition between life forms (e.g. grass, shrubs and trees); and (ii) the future role of woody plants including effects of fire, climatic extremes and management for carbon storage. In a simple example of simulating climate change impacts on forage production, we found that increased temperature (3°C) was likely to result in a decrease in forage production for most rangeland locations (e.g. 21% calculated as an unweighted average across 90 locations). The increase in temperature exacerbated or reduced the effects of a 10% decrease/increase in rainfall respectively (33% or 9%). Estimates of the beneficial effects of increased CO2 (from 350 to 650ppm) on forage production and water use efficiency indicated enhanced forage production (+26%). The increase was approximately equivalent to the decline in forage production associated with a 3°C temperature increase. The large magnitude of these opposing effects emphasised the importance of the uncertainties in quantifying the impacts of these components of climate change. We anticipate decreases in LCC given that the 'best estimate' of climate change across the rangelands is for a decline (or little change) in rainfall and an increase in temperature. As a consequence, we suggest that public policy have regard for: the implications for livestock enterprises, regional communities, potential resource damage, animal welfare and human distress. However, the capability to quantify these warnings is yet to be developed and this important task remains as a challenge for rangeland and climate systems science.

KeywordsEl Nino southern oscillation; forage production; grazing; land and pasture degradation; potential evapotranspiration; seasonal climate forecasting
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020300210. Sustainable agricultural development
370202. Climatology
410601. Land capability and soil productivity
Public Notes

© Australian Rangeland Society 2009. This publication is copyright. It may be reproduced in whole or in part for the purposes of study, research, or review, but is subject to the inclusion of an acknowledgment of the source. Open access journal.

Byline AffiliationsQueensland Environmental Protection Agency, Australia
Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia
Department of Regional Development, Primary Industry, Fisheries and Resources, Northern Territory
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland
University of Queensland
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
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The climate change risk management matrix for the grazing industry of northern Australia
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Forecasting rainfall based on the Southern Oscillation Index phases at longer lead-times in Australia
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Summative evaluation of climate application activities with pastoralists in western Queensland
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Modelling impacts of vegetation cover change on regional climate
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Harvesting, processing and marketing Australian native grass seeds
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Modeling the impact of historical land cover change on Australia's regional climate
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Impacts of land use/land cover change on climate and future research priorities
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The simulated impact of land cover change on climate extremes in eastern Australia
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A continent under stress: interactions, feedbacks and risks associated with impact of modified land cover on Australia's climate
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Impact of historical land cover change on daily indices of climate extremes including droughts in eastern Australia
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On Australian heat waves: time series analysis of extreme temperature events in Australia, 1950 - 2005
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Impact of land cover change on regional climate and El Nino in Australia
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