Agricultural conversion without external water and nutrient inputs reduces terrestrial vegetation productivity



Driven by global population and standard of living increases, humanity co-opts a growing share of the planet's natural resources resulting in many well-known environmental trade-offs. In this study, we explored the impact of agriculture on a resource fundamental to life on Earth: terrestrial vegetation growth (net primary production; NPP). We demonstrate that agricultural conversion has reduced terrestrial NPP by ~7.0%. Increases in NPP due to agricultural conversion were observed only in areas receiving external inputs (i.e., irrigation and/or fertilization). NPP reductions were found for ~88% of agricultural lands, with the largest reductions observed in areas formerly occupied by tropical forests and savannas (~71% and ~66% reductions, respectively). Without policies that explicitly consider the impact of agricultural conversion on primary production, future demand-driven increases in agricultural output will likely continue to drive net declines in global terrestrial productivity, with potential detrimental consequences for net ecosystem carbon storage and subsequent climate warming.