Abstract

Human population and economic growth are accelerating the demand for plant biomass to provide food, fuel, and fiber. The annual increment of biomass to meet these needs is quantified as net primary production (NPP). Here we show that an underlying assumption in some current models may lead to underestimates of the potential production from managed landscapes, particularly of bioenergy crops that have low nitrogen requirements. Using a simple light-use efficiency model and the theoretical maximum efficiency with which plant canopies convert solar radiation to biomass, we provide an upper-envelope NPP unconstrained by resource limitations. This theoretical maximum NPP approached 200 tC ha -1 yr-1 at point locations, roughly 2 orders of magnitude higher than most current managed or natural ecosystems. Recalculating the upper envelope estimate of NPP limited by available water reduced it by half or more in 91% of the land area globally. While the high conversion efficiencies observed in some extant plants indicate great potential to increase crop yields without changes to the basic mechanism of photosynthesis, particularly for crops with low nitrogen requirements, realizing such high yields will require improvements in water use efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9471-9477
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Volume48
Issue number16
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 19 2014

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net primary production
Biomass
Productivity
productivity
Crops
Nitrogen
biomass
Economic Development
Water
Population Growth
Photosynthesis
light use efficiency
crop
Ecosystem
nitrogen
bioenergy
Theoretical Models
water use efficiency
crop yield
Radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

Delucia, E. H., Gomez-Casanovas, N., Greenberg, J., Hudiburg, T. W., Kantola, I. B., Long, S. P., ... Parton, W. J. (2014). The theoretical limit to plant productivity. Environmental Science and Technology, 48(16), 9471-9477. https://doi.org/10.1021/es502348e

The theoretical limit to plant productivity. / Delucia, Evan H; Gomez-Casanovas, Nuria; Greenberg, Jonathan; Hudiburg, Tara W.; Kantola, Ilsa B.; Long, Stephen P; Miller, Adam D.; Ort, Donald Richard; Parton, William J.

In: Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 48, No. 16, 19.08.2014, p. 9471-9477.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Delucia, EH, Gomez-Casanovas, N, Greenberg, J, Hudiburg, TW, Kantola, IB, Long, SP, Miller, AD, Ort, DR & Parton, WJ 2014, 'The theoretical limit to plant productivity', Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 48, no. 16, pp. 9471-9477. https://doi.org/10.1021/es502348e
Delucia EH, Gomez-Casanovas N, Greenberg J, Hudiburg TW, Kantola IB, Long SP et al. The theoretical limit to plant productivity. Environmental Science and Technology. 2014 Aug 19;48(16):9471-9477. https://doi.org/10.1021/es502348e
Delucia, Evan H ; Gomez-Casanovas, Nuria ; Greenberg, Jonathan ; Hudiburg, Tara W. ; Kantola, Ilsa B. ; Long, Stephen P ; Miller, Adam D. ; Ort, Donald Richard ; Parton, William J. / The theoretical limit to plant productivity. In: Environmental Science and Technology. 2014 ; Vol. 48, No. 16. pp. 9471-9477.
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