• Open Access

Empirical geographic modeling of switchgrass yields in the United States


Henriette I. Jager, e-mail: jagerhi@ornl.gov


Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a perennial grass native to the United States that has been studied as a sustainable source of biomass fuel. Although many field-scale studies have examined the potential of this grass as a bioenergy crop, these studies have not been integrated. In this study, we present an empirical model for switchgrass yield and use this model to predict yield for the conterminous United States. We added environmental covariates to assembled yield data from field trials based on geographic location. We developed empirical models based on these data. The resulting empirical models, which account for spatial autocorrelation in the field data, provide the ability to estimate yield from factors associated with climate, soils, and management for both lowland and upland varieties of switchgrass. Yields of both ecotypes showed quadratic responses to temperature, increased with precipitation and minimum winter temperature, and decreased with stand age. Only the upland ecotype showed a positive response to our index of soil wetness and only the lowland ecotype showed a positive response to fertilizer. We view this empirical modeling effort, not as an alternative to mechanistic plant-growth modeling, but rather as a first step in the process of functional validation that will compare patterns produced by the models with those found in data. For the upland variety, the correlation between measured yields and yields predicted by empirical models was 0.62 for the training subset and 0.58 for the test subset. For the lowland variety, the correlation was 0.46 for the training subset and 0.19 for the test subset. Because considerable variation in yield remains unexplained, it will be important in the future to characterize spatial and local sources of uncertainty associated with empirical yield estimates.