In publica commoda

Press release: Modelling to protect crops of the future

No. - 28.02.2023

International research team shows benefits of adapting barley varieties to climate change


Extreme weather events such as heavy rains and flooding triggered by the intensification of the water cycle due to climate change, are increasingly threatening food security. Large collaborative research projects around the world are working to better adapt plant genetics to the climate conditions of current and future barley-growing regions. An international research team with participation from the University of Göttingen has now developed a novel modelling approach that can be used to make a global assessment of the possible effects of waterlogging and the adaptations of crop cultivation that will have to be made. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.


Until this new modelling and impact assessment approach was developed, it wasn’t possible to have a global overview of the impact of waterlogging. Lack of suitable experimental data had prevented the development of adequate and reliable models. Some of the issues that the new approach takes into account are the crop phenology related patterns of stress shared by plants for different environments, barley varieties and climate scenarios. In addition, the new model features improved process understanding from controlled experiments and field trials, together with an evaluation of the model using selected data sets on different measures of dealing with waterlogging around the world.


On this basis, the scientists conclude that losses to barley yield due to waterlogging, which have increased from 3 to 11 percent under initial conditions from 1985 to 2016, will increase globally to 10 to 20 per cent under future conditions in the 2080s. However, by optimising sowing dates and using waterlogging-tolerant varieties, the research team estimates that yield losses could be reduced by 18 per cent.


"Applying this approach on a global scale leads to two important findings," explains Dr Gennady Bracho-Mujica, postdoctoral researcher from Göttingen University’s Tropical Plant Production and Agricultural Systems Modelling research group. "Winter barley faces earlier seasonal patterns of waterlogging compared to spring barley, mainly due to the fact that waterlogging lasts longer in winter barley. The waterlogging stress patterns for winter-sown and spring-sown barley varieties under current climate conditions are likely to be similar to those under climate conditions expected in the future."


"Building on this knowledge, agronomists and plant-breeders could increase the impact of their work if they succeeded in developing new spring barley genotypes with improved tolerance to late-season waterlogging. In contrast, new winter barley genotypes would have to be designed to better tolerate early-season waterlogging," adds Department Head, Professor Reimund Rötter.


Scientists at the University of Göttingen lead the modelling part of several large collaborative projects such as BARISTA and BRACE, which focus on breeding climate-resilient barley genotypes for Europe and beyond. "Advanced tools that help accelerate breeding to better adapt genetics to environmental conditions will be crucial for adapting crop production systems to future climate change when complemented by appropriate management practices," conclude BRACE project scientists Mercy Appiah and Mareike Köster from the University of Göttingen.


Original publication: Ke Liu et al. Silver lining to a climate crisis in multiple prospects for relieving crop waterlogging under future climates. Nature Communications 2023. Doi:  10.1038/s41467-023-36129-4



Professor Reimund P Rötter

University of Göttingen

Faculty of Agricultural Sciences

Grisebachstraße 6, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

Tel: +49 (0)551 39-33751