Effects of modelling detail on simulated potential crop yields under a wide range of climatic conditions

M.Y.O. Adam, L.G.J. van Bussel, P.A. Leffelaar, H. van Keulen, F. Ewert

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Crop simulation models are widely applied at large scale for climate change impact assessment or integrated assessment studies. However, often a mismatch exists between data availability and the level of detail in the model used. Good modelling practice dictates to keep models as simple as possible, but enough detail should be incorporated to capture the major processes that determine the system's behaviour. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of the level of detail incorporated in process-based crop growth models on simulated potential yields under a wide range of climatic conditions. We conducted a multi-site analysis and identified that by using a constant radiation use efficiency (RUE) value under a wide range of climatic conditions, the description of the process of biomass production may be over-simplified, as the effects of high temperatures and high radiation intensities on this parameter are ignored. Further, we found that particular attention should be given to the choice of the light interception approach in a crop model as determined by leaf area index (LAI) dynamics. The two LAI dynamics approaches considered in this study gave different simulated yields irrespective of the characteristics of the location and the light interception approaches better explained the differences in yield sensitivity to climatic variability than the biomass production approaches. Further analysis showed that differences between the two LAI dynamics approaches for simulated yields were mainly due to different representations of leaf senescence in both approaches. We concluded that a better understanding and modelling of leaf senescence, particularly its onset, is needed to reduce model uncertainty in yield simulations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-143
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • radiation use efficiency
  • light-use efficiency
  • air co2 enrichment
  • leaf-area index
  • spring wheat
  • elevated co2
  • terrestrial biosphere
  • stomatal conductance
  • growth simulation
  • carbon balance

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