Climate-Smart Grass

A strategy for grassland to safeguard forage production against extreme weather events through resilience to multiple stresses

Cluster Leader: Prof. Davey Jones, Bangor University

To future-proof grassland food production to withstand extreme weather associated with climate change, new grass varieties for livestock farming are needed that, together with science-based land management strategies, can provide landscape resilience to multiple stresses. Climate-Smart Grass researchers investigated how extreme weather events including floods, droughts and temperature extremes affect grassland ecosystem functioning and the interactions with high ground-level ozone pollution.

Climate-Smart Grass investigated the responses of improved grasslands for livestock farming to flooding, drought and high ground-level ozone concentrations in order to develop ‘climate-smart’ swards to improve grassland resilience against these stressors.

Aims:

  • Determine whether these extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and which regions of the UK are most affected.
  • Determine the ‘tipping points’ at which these weather events cause irreversible changes to grassland functioning;
  • Develop new grass varieties that are more resilient to such extreme events.

Research activities:

  • Collaboration with the UK Met Office; benefitting from access to their vast data sets on climate projections, potential weather extremes and the impacts of climate change.
  • Using long-term field experiments to test how soils and conventional grass swards respond to, and recover from, consecutive periods of drought and flooding and what the ‘tipping points’ are after which recovery does not occur.
  • The use of solar-dome glasshouses equipped with ozone injection systems to establish the response and recovery to any combination of three stressors (ozone, flooding and drought).
  • Screening resilient Festulolium grass varieties with high growth rates and deep roots for stress resistance using molecular breeding techniques and root growth experiments. The most resilient varieties were chosen to develop new high-yield swards resistant to multiple stressors, with extensive field trials used to validate the resilience of the new varieties under different extreme weather scenarios.

Key findings:

  • The frequency of extreme weather events has increased throughout the UK over the last 60 years, and high-risk regions particularly likely to experience multiple extreme events have been mapped.
  • Negative effects of flooding on long-term ecosystem service delivery are greater than those of drought, while elevated levels of ozone are less damaging than these hydrological stresses.
  • Multi-stress extreme events are much more damaging than single events, however, responses differ between ecosystem services. Some services improve under stress, while others decrease.
  • The Cluster identified novel Festulolium varieties and grass sward mixtures that are more resistant to extreme events. Following more field trials, these varieties can be adopted into the design of more climate-resilient agricultural landscapes.

Publication highlights:

  • Wang, J., Akiyama, H., Yagi, K., Yan, X. (2018). Controlling variables and emission factors of methane from global rice fields. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 18: 10419 - 10431. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-18-10419-2018
  • Kopecký, D., Harper, J., Bartoš, J., Gasior, D., Vrána, J., Hřibová, E., Boller, B., Ardenghi, N., Šimoníková, N., Doležel, J., Humphreys M. (2016). An increasing need for productive and stress resilient Festulolium amphiploids: what can be learnt from the stable genomic composition of Festuca pratensis subsp. apennina (De Not.) Hegi? Frontiers in Environmental Science 4: 66. http://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2016.00066
  • Sanchez-Rodriguez, A.R, Nie, C., Hill, P.W., Chadwick, D.R., Jones, D.L. (2019) Extreme flood events at higher temperatures exacerbate the loss of soil functionality and trace gas emissions in grassland. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 130: 227-236. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.12.021

The NRN-LCEE produced the following briefing on the policy implications of Climate-Smart Grass research:

Climate-proofing grassland productivity

The Climate-Smart Grass researchers included:

Bangor University

  • Davey Jones                                              
  • David Chadwick                                       
  • Paul Hill                                                      
  • Antonio R. Sánchez-Rodríguez           
  • Ros Dodd                                                                 
  • Robert Turner

Aberystwyth University

  • Alison Kingston-Smith                             
  • Dylan Gwynn-Jones                                
  • John Doonan                                             
  • John Scullion   
  • Dimitra Loka                   

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Bangor

  • Felicity Hayes                                            
  • David Robinson

Please see the ‘NRN-LCEE Final Overview 2013-2019’  for further details of the Cluster’s research.