Exploring the economic, social and environmental prospects for commercial natural annual grasslands by performing a sensitivity analysis on a multidisciplinary integrated model

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Feb 25;705:135860. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135860. Epub 2019 Nov 30.

Abstract

This paper presents an integrated modelling study aimed at exploring the possible effects of drivers of change in commercial natural annual grasslands. We consider drivers as factors that affect the rangeland but are not affected by it. Thus, the stocking rate is not treated as a driver, but as an endogenous factor ultimately determined by drivers. This approach, which call for integrated multidisciplinary studies, is rare in the rangeland literature. We try to alleviate this lack by presenting and utilizing a novel multidisciplinary integrated system-dynamics model (108 equations) which represents an area of privately owned extensive farms, its farmers (their numbers and decisions), herds or flocks, herbage production, soil erosion and the linked local markets. By means of a global sensitivity analysis of this model we evaluated the sensitivities of key endogenous factors to the same percentage variation in 70 factors, including economic and climate drivers. The analysis considered the behaviours of 288,000 variants of the modelled system, each under a different 300-year driver scenario. We found that the environmental component of the model was almost exclusively sensitive to biophysical factors, whereas the socio-economic component was almost exclusively sensitive to socio-economic factors, despite the model takes account of key feedbacks connecting both components. Our results suggest that cautiously-managed commercial natural grasslands could socially and economically cope with climate change, especially in a scenario of rising prices of animal products, and also that, even though stocking rates would increase due to an increase in the demand for livestock products, the main threat to the provision of ecosystem services in the studied system would be climate change.

Keywords: Climate change; Commercial rangelands; Economic drivers; Integrated modelling.