IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

14.2.4 Agriculture, forestry and fisheries


Over the last century, yields of major commodity crops in the U.S. have increased consistently, typically at rates of 1 to 2%/yr (Troyer, 2004), but there are significant variations across regions and between years. These yield trends are a result of cumulative changes in multiple factors, including technology, fertiliser use, seed stocks, and management techniques, plus any changes due to climate; the specific impact from any one factor may be positive or negative. In the Midwestern U.S. from 1970 to 2000, corn yield increased 58% and soybean yields increased 20%, with annual weather fluctuations resulting in year-to-year variability (Hicke and Lobell, 2004). Heavy rainfalls reduced the value of the U.S. corn crop by an average of US$3 billion/yr between 1951 and 1998 (Rosenzweig et al., 2002). In the Corn and Wheat Belt of the U.S., yields of corn and soybeans from 1982 to 1998 were negatively impacted by warm temperatures, decreasing 17% for each 1°C of warm-temperature anomaly (Lobell and Asner, 2003). In California, warmer nights have enhanced the production of high-quality wine grapes (Nemani et al., 2001), but additional warming may not result in similar increases. For twelve major crops in California, climate fluctuations over the last 20 years have not had large effects on yield, though they have been a positive factor for oranges and walnuts and a negative for avocados and cotton (Lobell et al., 2006).

North American agriculture has been exposed to many severe weather events during the past decade. More variable weather, coupled with out-migration from rural areas and economic stresses, has increased the vulnerability of the agricultural sector overall, raising concerns about its future capacity to cope with a more variable climate (Senate of Canada, 2003; Wheaton et al., 2005). North American agriculture is, however, dynamic. Adaptation to multiple stresses and opportunities, including changes in markets and weather, is a normal process for the sector. Crop and enterprise diversification, as well as soil and water conservation, are often used to reduce weather-related risks (Wall and Smit, 2005). Recent adaptations by the agricultural sector in North America, including improved water conservation and conservation tillage, are not typically undertaken as single discrete actions, but evolve as a set of decisions that can span several years in a dynamic and changing environment (Smit and Skinner, 2002) that includes changes in public policy (Goodwin, 2003). While there have been attempts to realistically model the dynamics of adaptation to climate change (Easterling et al., 2003), understanding of agriculture’s current sensitivity to climate variability and its capacity to cope with climate change remains limited (Tol, 2002).


Forest growth appears to be slowly accelerating (at a rate of less than 1%/decade) in regions where tree growth has historically been limited by low temperatures and short growing seasons (Caspersen et al., 2000; McKenzie et al., 2001; Joos et al., 2002; Boisvenue and Running, 2006). In black spruce at the forest-tundra transition in eastern Canada, height growth has been increasing since the 1970s (Gamache and Payette, 2004). Growth is slowing, however, in areas subject to drought. Radial growth of white spruce on dry south-facing slopes in Alaska has decreased over the last 90 years, due to increased drought stress (Barber et al., 2000). In semi-arid forests of the south-western U.S., growth rates have decreased since 1895, correlated with drought linked to warming temperatures (McKenzie et al., 2001). Relationships between tree-ring growth in sub-alpine forests and climate in the Pacific Northwest from 1895 to 1991 had complex topographic influences (Peterson and Peterson, 2001; Peterson et al., 2002). On high elevation north-facing slopes, growth of sub-alpine fir and mountain hemlock was negatively correlated with spring snowpack depth and positively correlated with summer temperatures, indicating growing-season temperature limitations. On lower elevation sites, however, growth was negatively correlated with summer temperature, suggesting water limitations. In Colorado, aspen have advanced into the more cold-tolerant spruce-fir forests over the past 100 years (Elliott and Baker, 2004). The northern range limit of lodgepole pine is advancing into the zone previously dominated by the more cold-tolerant black spruce in the Yukon (Johnstone and Chapin, 2003). A combination of warmer temperatures and insect infestations has resulted in economically significant losses of the forest resource base to spruce bark beetle in both Alaska and the Yukon (ACIA, 2004).

Freshwater fisheries

Most commercial freshwater fishing in North America occurs in rural or remote areas, with indigenous peoples often taking a major role. Recreational inland fisheries are also significant and increasing (DFO-MPO, 2002; DOI, 2002). Ecological sustainability of fish and fisheries productivity is closely tied to temperature and water supply (flows and lake levels). Climate change and variability increasingly have direct and indirect impacts, both of which interact with other pressures on freshwater fisheries, including human development (Schindler, 2001; Chu et al., 2003; Reed and Czech, 2005; Rose, 2005), habitat loss and alteration (including water pollution), biotic homogenisation due to invasions and introductions (Rahel, 2002), and over-exploitation (Post et al., 2002; Cooke and Cowx, 2004). Cold- and cool-water fisheries, especially Salmonids, have been declining as warmer/drier conditions reduce their habitat. The sea-run[3] salmon stocks are in steep decline throughout much of North America (Gallagher and Wood, 2003). Evidence for impacts of recent climate change is rapidly accumulating. Pacific salmon have been appearing in Arctic rivers (Babaluk et al., 2000). Salmonid species have been affected by warming in U.S. streams (O’Neal, 2002). Lake charr in an Ontario lake suffered recruitment[4] failure due to El Niño-linked warm temperatures (Gunn, 2002). Lake Ontario year-class productivity is strongly linked to temperature, with a shift in the 1990s toward warm-water species (Casselman, 2002). Walleye yield in lakes depends on the amount of cool, turbid habitat (Lester et al., 2004). Recent contraction in habitat for walleye in the Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario was due in part to warming and lower water levels (Chu et al., 2005). Success of adult spawning and survival of the fry (new-borne) of brook trout is closely linked to cold groundwater seeps, which provide preferred temperature refuges for lake-dwelling populations (Borwick et al., 2006). Rates of fish-egg development and mortality increase with temperature rise within species-specific tolerance ranges (Kamler, 2002).

  1. ^  Sea-run: having the habit of ascending a river from the sea, especially to spawn.
  2. ^  Recruitment: the number of new juvenile fish reaching a size large enough to be caught by commercial fishing methods.