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Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Climate Change (July 2017): Agriculture and Livestock

By Diane P. Genereux and David A. Lovejoy

Agriculture and Livestock

The domestication and artificial selection of plant crops and livestock have played a profound role in determining the distribution of human species across the planet, suggesting that an understanding of the historical role of evolution in agriculture will be important for predicting and accommodating the impacts of climate change. In Biodiversity in Agriculture: Domestication, Evolution, and Sustainability, editor Paul Gepts and fellow authors present an expansive account of these influences, from historical impacts to potential responses to climate change. In Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture, R. Ford Denison takes a more pragmatic approach. He suggests that the productivity and sustainability of agricultural systems are limited by the failure to consider both ecological phenomena, such as interactions among crop species raised in close proximity, and evolutionary questions, including whether or not existing agricultural stocks have genetic capacity to respond to increasing temperatures and greater variation in annual rainfall.

Three CABI publications focus more explicitly on how evolutionary principles, as implemented through artificial selection, can be used to buffer livestock populations against climate change. In Climate Change Impact on Livestock: Adaptation and Mitigation, editors Veerasamy Sejian et al. begin by acknowledging the irony of discussing how climate change impacts livestock, given that livestock production contributes substantially to climate change—both through carbon dioxide emissions by livestock (18 percent of global emissions, by one estimate cited therein), and by providing the calorically dense food sources that enable the growth of human populations. Livestock Production and Climate Change, edited by P. K. Malik et al., has a strong emphasis on the economic implications of climate change for livestock production. However, one chapter is specifically focused on the evolutionary potential of livestock, citing variation among particular cattle breeds in the ability to cope with warm environments—for example, through abundance of sweat glands and reduced propensity to dehydration under extremely warm conditions. Another highlights the fact that livestock keepers may need to prepare to shift toward raising livestock breeds in which some fraction of animals have been found to resist tropical, vector-borne diseases. In Climate Change Impact and Adaptation in Agricultural Systems, Jürg Fuhrer and Peter J. Gregory focus on how ecological approaches—for example, raising certain pairs of crops together—can be leveraged to mitigate the implications of climate change. Finally, Fernando Rami╠ürez and Jose Kallarackal address the ecologically complex intersection of the phenology of trees and their pollinators in Responses of Fruit Trees to Global Climate Change.