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Concept: Irrigation


Florida is riddled with sinkholes due to its karst topography. Sometimes these sinkholes can cause extensive damage to infrastructure and homes. It has been suggested that agricultural practices, such as sprinkler irrigation methods used to protect crops, can increase the development of sinkholes, particularly when temperatures drop below freezing, causing groundwater levels to drop quickly during groundwater pumping. In the strawberry growing region, Dover/Plant City, Florida, the effects have caused water shortages resulting in dry- wells and ground subsidence through the development of sinkholes that can be costly to maintain and repair. In this study, we look at how frost-freeze events have affected West Central Florida over the past 25 years with detailed comparisons made between two cold-years (with severe frost-freeze events) and a warm year (no frost-freeze events). We analyzed the spatial and temporal correlation between strawberry farming freeze protection practices and the development of sinkholes/dry well complaints, and assessed the economic impact of such events from a water management perspective by evaluating the cost of repairing and drilling new wells and how these compared with using alternative crop-protection methods. We found that the spatial distribution of sinkholes was non-random during both frost-freeze events. A strong correlation between sinkhole occurrence and water extraction and minimum temperatures was found. Furthermore as temperatures fall below 41°F and water levels decrease by more than 20 ft, the number of sinkholes increase greatly (N >10). At this time alternative protection methods such as freeze-cloth are cost prohibitive in comparison to repairing dry wells. In conclusion, the findings from this study are applicable in other agricultural areas and can be used to develop comprehensive water management plans in areas where the abstraction of large quantities of water occur.

Concepts: Agriculture, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, Spring, Subsidence, Karst topography, Sinkhole


A sharp decline in the availability of arable land and sufficient supply of irrigation water along with a continuous steep increase in food demands have exerted a pressure on farmers to produce more with fewer resources. A viable solution to release this pressure is to speed up the plant breeding process by employing biotechnology in breeding programs. The majority of biotechnological applications rely on information generated from various -omic technologies. The latest outstanding improvements in proteomic platforms and many other but related advances in plant biotechnology techniques offer various new ways to encourage the usage of these technologies by plant scientists for crop improvement programs. A combinatorial approach of accelerated gene discovery through genomics, proteomics, and other associated -omic branches of biotechnology, as an applied approach, is proving to be an effective way to speed up the crop improvement programs worldwide. In the near future, swift improvements in -omic databases are becoming critical and demand immediate attention for the effective utilization of these techniques to produce next-generation crops for the progressive farmers. Here, we have reviewed the recent advances in proteomics, as tools of biotechnology, which are offering great promise and leading the path toward crop improvement for sustainable agriculture.

Concepts: Agriculture, Genomics, Fungus, Biotechnology, Irrigation, Functional genomics, Breeding, Agronomy


In semiarid drylands water shortage and trampling by large herbivores are two factors limiting plant growth and distribution. Trampling can strongly affect plant performance, but little is known about responses of morphological and mechanical traits of woody plants to trampling and their possible interaction with water availability. Seedlings of four shrubs (Caragana intermedia, Cynanchum komarovi, Hedysarum laeve and Hippophae rhamnoides) common in the semiarid Mu Us Sandland were grown at 4% and 10% soil water content and exposed to either simulated trampling or not. Growth, morphological and mechanical traits were measured. Trampling decreased vertical height and increased basal diameter and stem resistance to bending and rupture (as indicated by the increased minimum bend and break force) in all species. Increasing water availability increased biomass, stem length, basal diameter, leaf thickness and rigidity of stems in all species except C. komarovii. However, there were no interactive effects of trampling and water content on any of these traits among species except for minimum bend force and the ratio between stem resistance to rupture and bending. Overall shrub species have a high degree of trampling resistance by morphological and mechanical modifications, and the effects of trampling do not depend on water availability. However, the increasing water availability can also affect trade-off between stem strength and flexibility caused by trampling, which differs among species. Water plays an important role not only in growth but also in trampling adaptation in drylands.

Concepts: Plant, Water, Irrigation, Shrub, Hippophae rhamnoides, Sea-buckthorn, Water content, Water activity


The 2012-2015 drought has left California with severely reduced snowpack, soil moisture, ground water, and reservoir stocks, but the impact of this estimated millennial-scale event on forest health is unknown. We used airborne laser-guided spectroscopy and satellite-based models to assess losses in canopy water content of California’s forests between 2011 and 2015. Approximately 10.6 million ha of forest containing up to 888 million large trees experienced measurable loss in canopy water content during this drought period. Severe canopy water losses of greater than 30% occurred over 1 million ha, affecting up to 58 million large trees. Our measurements exclude forests affected by fire between 2011 and 2015. If drought conditions continue or reoccur, even with temporary reprieves such as El Niño, we predict substantial future forest change.

Concepts: Water, Hydrology, Aquifer, Forest ecology, Irrigation, Rainforest, Trees, Names of large numbers


Herbicide use is increasing worldwide both in agriculture and private gardens. However, our knowledge of potential side-effects on non-target soil organisms, even on such eminent ones as earthworms, is still very scarce. In a greenhouse experiment, we assessed the impact of the most widely used glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup on two earthworm species with different feeding strategies. We demonstrate, that the surface casting activity of vertically burrowing earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) almost ceased three weeks after herbicide application, while the activity of soil dwelling earthworms (Aporrectodea caliginosa) was not affected. Reproduction of the soil dwellers was reduced by 56% within three months after herbicide application. Herbicide application led to increased soil concentrations of nitrate by 1592% and phosphate by 127%, pointing to potential risks for nutrient leaching into streams, lakes, or groundwater aquifers. These sizeable herbicide-induced impacts on agroecosystems are particularly worrisome because these herbicides have been globally used for decades.

Concepts: Soil, Aquifer, Irrigation, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Herbicide, Roundup, Lumbricus terrestris


Groundwater provides a reliable tap to sustain agricultural production, yet persistent aquifer depletion threatens future sustainability. The High Plains Aquifer supplies 30% of the nation’s irrigated groundwater, and the Kansas portion supports the congressional district with the highest market value for agriculture in the nation. We project groundwater declines to assess when the study area might run out of water, and comprehensively forecast the impacts of reduced pumping on corn and cattle production. So far, 30% of the groundwater has been pumped and another 39% will be depleted over the next 50 y given existing trends. Recharge supplies 15% of current pumping and would take an average of 500-1,300 y to completely refill a depleted aquifer. Significant declines in the region’s pumping rates will occur over the next 15-20 y given current trends, yet irrigated agricultural production might increase through 2040 because of projected increases in water use efficiencies in corn production. Water use reductions of 20% today would cut agricultural production to the levels of 15-20 y ago, the time of peak agricultural production would extend to the 2070s, and production beyond 2070 would significantly exceed that projected without reduced pumping. Scenarios evaluate incremental reductions of current pumping by 20-80%, the latter rate approaching natural recharge. Findings substantiate that saving more water today would result in increased net production due to projected future increases in crop water use efficiencies. Society has an opportunity now to make changes with tremendous implications for future sustainability and livability.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, Sustainability, Great Plains, Ogallala Aquifer


Livestock production impacts air and water quality, ocean health, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on regional to global scales and it is the largest use of land globally. Quantifying the environmental impacts of the various livestock categories, mostly arising from feed production, is thus a grand challenge of sustainability science. Here, we quantify land, irrigation water, and reactive nitrogen (Nr) impacts due to feed production, and recast published full life cycle GHG emission estimates, for each of the major animal-based categories in the US diet. Our calculations reveal that the environmental costs per consumed calorie of dairy, poultry, pork, and eggs are mutually comparable (to within a factor of 2), but strikingly lower than the impacts of beef. Beef production requires 28, 11, 5, and 6 times more land, irrigation water, GHG, and Nr, respectively, than the average of the other livestock categories. Preliminary analysis of three staple plant foods shows two- to sixfold lower land, GHG, and Nr requirements than those of the nonbeef animal-derived calories, whereas irrigation requirements are comparable. Our analysis is based on the best data currently available, but follow-up studies are necessary to improve parameter estimates and fill remaining knowledge gaps. Data imperfections notwithstanding, the key conclusion-that beef production demands about 1 order of magnitude more resources than alternative livestock categories-is robust under existing uncertainties. The study thus elucidates the multiple environmental benefits of potential, easy-to-implement dietary changes, and highlights the uniquely high resource demands of beef.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Water pollution, Milk, Meat, Irrigation, Livestock, Greenhouse gas


Recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations have located and quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation, but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. Here we show that approximately eleven per cent of non-renewable groundwater use for irrigation is embedded in international food trade, of which two-thirds are exported by Pakistan, the USA and India alone. Our quantification of groundwater depletion embedded in the world’s food trade is based on a combination of global, crop-specific estimates of non-renewable groundwater abstraction and international food trade data. A vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security. Some countries, such as the USA, Mexico, Iran and China, are particularly exposed to these risks because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers. Our results could help to improve the sustainability of global food production and groundwater resource management by identifying priority regions and agricultural products at risk as well as the end consumers of these products.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, United States, Food, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, International trade


While recent findings based on satellite records indicate a positive trend in vegetation greenness over global drylands, the reasons remain elusive. We hypothesize that enhanced levels of atmospheric CO2 play an important role in the observed greening through the CO2 effect on plant water savings and consequent available soil water increases. Meta-analytic techniques were used to compare soil water content under ambient and elevated CO2 treatments across a range of climate regimes, vegetation types, soil textures and land management practices. Based on 1705 field measurements from 21 distinct sites, a consistent and statistically significant increase in the availability of soil water (11%) was observed under elevated CO2 treatments in both drylands and non-drylands, with a statistically stronger response over drylands (17% vs. 9%). Given the inherent water limitation in drylands, it is suggested that the additional soil water availability is a likely driver of observed increases in vegetation greenness.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Scientific method, Carbon dioxide, Water, Aquifer, Irrigation, Water content, Water activity


Groundwater is a life-sustaining resource that supplies water to billions of people, plays a central part in irrigated agriculture and influences the health of many ecosystems. Most assessments of global water resources have focused on surface water, but unsustainable depletion of groundwater has recently been documented on both regional and global scales. It remains unclear how the rate of global groundwater depletion compares to the rate of natural renewal and the supply needed to support ecosystems. Here we define the groundwater footprint (the area required to sustain groundwater use and groundwater-dependent ecosystem services) and show that humans are overexploiting groundwater in many large aquifers that are critical to agriculture, especially in Asia and North America. We estimate that the size of the global groundwater footprint is currently about 3.5 times the actual area of aquifers and that about 1.7 billion people live in areas where groundwater resources and/or groundwater-dependent ecosystems are under threat. That said, 80 per cent of aquifers have a groundwater footprint that is less than their area, meaning that the net global value is driven by a few heavily overexploited aquifers. The groundwater footprint is the first tool suitable for consistently evaluating the use, renewal and ecosystem requirements of groundwater at an aquifer scale. It can be combined with the water footprint and virtual water calculations, and be used to assess the potential for increasing agricultural yields with renewable groundwaterref. The method could be modified to evaluate other resources with renewal rates that are slow and spatially heterogeneous, such as fisheries, forestry or soil.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Hydrology, Aquifer, Groundwater, Irrigation, Water supply, Deficit irrigation