Spatial forecasting of switchgrass productivity under current and future climate change scenarios


  • Corresponding Editor: X. Xiao.


Evaluating the potential of alternative energy crops across large geographic regions, as well as over time, is a necessary component to determining if biofuel production is feasible and sustainable in the face of growing production demands and climatic change. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), a native perennial herbaceous grass, is a promising candidate for cellulosic feedstock production. In this study, current and future (from 2080 to 2090) productivity is estimated across the central and eastern United States using ALMANAC, a mechanistic model that simulates plant growth over time. The ALMANAC model was parameterized for representative ecotypes of switchgrass. Our results indicate substantial variation in switchgrass productivity both within regions and over time. States along the Gulf Coast, southern Atlantic Coast, and in the East North Central Midwest have the highest current biomass potential. However, these areas also contain critical wetland habitat necessary for the maintenance of biodiversity and agricultural lands necessary for food production. The southern United States is predicted to have the largest decrease in future biomass production. The Great Plains are expected to experience large increases in productivity by 2080–2090 due to climate change. In general, regions where future temperature and precipitation are predicted to increase are also where larger future biomass production is expected. In contrast, regions that show a future decrease in precipitation are associated with smaller future biomass production. Switchgrass appears to be a promising biofuel crop for the central and eastern United States, with local biomass predicted to be high (>10 Mg/ha) for 50% of the area studied for each climate scenario. In order to minimize land conversion and loss of biodiversity, areas that currently have and maintain high productivity under climate change should be targeted for their long-term growth potential.