Projected impact of future climate on water-stress patterns across the Australian wheatbelt


Drought frequently limits Australian wheat production, and the expected future increase in temperatures and rainfall variability will further challenge productivity. A modelling approach captured plant×environment×management interactions to simulate water-stress patterns experienced by wheat crops at representative locations across the Australian wheatbelt for 33 climate model projections, considering the ‘business as usual’ emission scenario RCP8.5. The results indicate that projections of future water-stress patterns are region specific. Significant variations in projected impacts were found across climate models, providing local ranges of uncertainty to consider in planning efforts. Most climate models projected an increase in the frequency of severe water-stress conditions in the Western area, the largest producing region, and fewer severe water stresses in other regions. Where found, reductions in water-stress conditions were largely due to shorter crop cycles (a result of warmer temperatures), increased water use efficiency (resulting from increased CO2 levels), and, in some cases, increased local rainfall. Overall, simulations indicate that all areas of the Australian wheatbelt will continue to experience severe water-stress conditions (43.9, 42.6, and 40.2% for 2030, 2050, and 2070 compared with 42.8% for 1990). Given projected frequencies of severe water stress and warmer conditions, efforts towards maintaining or improving yields are essential.

Journal of Experimental Botany
Bangyou Zheng
Bangyou Zheng
Data Scientist / Digital Agronomist

a research scientist of digital agriculture at the CSIRO.