New publication in Nature Plants

Published on
April 20, 2020

Calling for transdisciplinary efforts to develop a multiscale crop modelling framework for assessing climate change adaptation

Global crop production is increasingly threatened by climate change events, and human interventions are widely considered to be essential for minimising such a threat. One of such interventions is improved adaptation strategies, e.g. breeding for crop genotypes (G) that can better adapt to future environmental conditions (E) when combined with proper genotype-specific crop management options (M). Crop modelling has long been touted as a most effective tool to guide the design of this adaptation strategy. Although this G x E x M modelling was already proposed some 20 years ago by scientists of our Centre, crop models have hardly been proven successful in supporting such strategies. Part of the reasons was the fact that adapting crop production systems to climate change was considered to be a typical domain of studies at a higher aggregation level, where understanding biological details for crop response to climate change variables is believed to be irrelevant.

However, G x E x M in the context of climate change is often subtle; if not properly quantified, inaccuracies occurred at individual scales would aggregate to result in a wrong projection of the impact at the systems level. For example, our Centre has identified that the modelled direction of interaction between elevated [CO2] and increased temperature by prevailing existing crop models was opposite to the direction as predicted by the underlying biochemistry. Such models would not be useful for designs to develop climate-smart crop genotypes. Meanwhile, adaptation of crop production to climate change should be treated along environmental sustainability, as the environmental footprint of crop production may change with adoption of different adaptation strategies over an extended time and space.

With these considerations in mind, a group of international scientists (including crop modellers, climate modellers, biologists, biogeochemists, breeders, and etc.) called for an international and transdisciplinary effort to develop a multiscale crop modelling framework for climate change adaptation assessment. This call is now published in Nature Plants.

Dr Xinyou Yin of our Centre contributed to this initiative, which was led by scientists of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. While the proposed multiscale modelling framework may be controversial, it will surely promote broad collaborations among scientists across different communities for knowledge exchange, data sharing, open-source coding and community-based model development and benchmarking.