Impact of climate change on crop nutrient and water use efficiencies

Physiol Plant. 2008 Aug;133(4):705-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3054.2008.01136.x. Epub 2008 May 28.


Implicit in discussions of plant nutrition and climate change is the assumption that we know what to do relative to nutrient management here and now but that these strategies might not apply in a changed climate. We review existing knowledge on interactive influences of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, temperature and soil moisture on plant growth, development and yield as well as on plant water use efficiency (WUE) and physiological and uptake efficiencies of soil-immobile nutrients. Elevated atmospheric CO(2) will increase leaf and canopy photosynthesis, especially in C3 plants, with minor changes in dark respiration. Additional CO(2) will increase biomass without marked alteration in dry matter partitioning, reduce transpiration of most plants and improve WUE. However, spatiotemporal variation in these attributes will impact agronomic performance and crop water use in a site-specific manner. Nutrient acquisition is closely associated with overall biomass and strongly influenced by root surface area. When climate change alters soil factors to restrict root growth, nutrient stress will occur. Plant size may also change but nutrient concentration will remain relatively unchanged; therefore, nutrient removal will scale with growth. Changes in regional nutrient requirements will be most remarkable where we alter cropping systems to accommodate shifts in ecozones or alter farming systems to capture new uses from existing systems. For regions and systems where we currently do an adequate job managing nutrients, we stand a good chance of continued optimization under a changed climate. If we can and should do better, climate change will not help us.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crops, Agricultural / metabolism*
  • Greenhouse Effect*
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Water