Global trends in grassland carrying capacity and relative stocking density of livestock

Johannes Piipponen*, Mika Jalava, Jan de Leeuw, Afag Rizayeva, Cecile Godde, Gabriel Cramer, Mario Herrero, Matti Kummu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
308 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Although the role of livestock in future food systems is debated, animal proteins are unlikely to completely disappear from our diet. Grasslands are a key source of primary productivity for livestock, and feed-food competition is often limited on such land. Previous research on the potential for sustainable grazing has focused on restricted geographical areas or does not consider inter-annual changes in grazing opportunities. Here, we developed a robust method to estimate trends and interannual variability (IV) in global livestock carrying capacity (number of grazing animals a piece of land can support) over 2001–2015, as well as relative stocking density (the reported livestock distribution relative to the estimated carrying capacity [CC]) in 2010. We first estimated the aboveground biomass that is available for grazers on global grasslands based on the MODIS Net Primary Production product. This was then used to calculate livestock carrying capacities using slopes, forest cover, and animal forage requirements as restrictions. We found that globally, CC decreased on 27% of total grasslands area, mostly in Europe and southeastern Brazil, while it increased on 15% of grasslands, particularly in Sudano-Sahel and some parts of South America. In 2010, livestock forage requirements exceeded forage availability in northwestern Europe, and southern and eastern Asia. Although our findings imply some opportunities to increase grazing pressures in cold regions, Central Africa, and Australia, the high IV or low biomass supply might prevent considerable increases in stocking densities. The approach and derived open access data sets can feed into global food system modelling, support conservation efforts to reduce land degradation associated with overgrazing, and help identify undergrazed areas for targeted sustainable intensification efforts or rewilding purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3902-3919
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Volume28
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • aboveground biomass
  • feed
  • grasslands
  • interannual variability
  • MODIS
  • net primary production
  • overgrazing
  • rangelands

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