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Climate Change, Wine Production and Wildlife Conservation
Study suggests that shifting grape-growing regions will lead to competition between agriculture and habitat in America’s wild places

Santa Barbara, CA – Could Santa Barbara County’s famous pinot noir, syrah and other world-class wine grapes soon be grown near grazing caribou in Yellowstone National Park? A new study suggests that they could.

Read the paper (pdf).

As the climate changes, vineyards may show up in unexpected places.

Bren School adjunct professor and Conservation International senior scientist Lee Hannah, Bren School staff researcher Patrick Roehrdanz, Bren master’s alumnus Anderson Shepard (2011) and the other authors of “Climate Change, Wine, and Conservation,” which appears today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS), suggest that climate change will dramatically impact where wine grapes can be grown in the future. And as viticulture moves to cooler areas – by going north or to higher altitudes – they say, it could intrude on habitat favored by caribou, grizzly bears and other mountain species and have far-reaching implications for conservation.

The researchers who conducted this first-ever global analysis of climate change impacts on wine production and conservation noted that:

  • Large changes will occur in areas suitable for viticulture.
  • Some newly suitable areas will have high value as wildlife habitat.
  • Freshwater ecosystems will likely be stressed in some traditional areas affected by higher temperatures and diminished rainfall, as growers use more water to irrigate their vines and cool their grapes.

The authors, who synthesized data from numerous models, chose to study wine grapes because they provide a good test case for measuring the impacts of climate change refracted through agriculture. Viticulture is sensitive to climate and is concentrated in regions having a Mediterranean climate, such as California’s prime wine-growing regions. These areas are global biodiversity hotspots and the most productive viticulture regions in the world. The researchers found that, by 2050, land suitable for growing wine grapes would decrease in major wine-producing areas by anywhere from 25 percent in Chile to 73 percent in Australia, with California seeing a decrease of 60 percent.

As traditional growing centers, like Napa, become too hot, others that are presently too cool will become increasingly suitable for vineyards. That, say the authors, will have implications for wildlife conservation in diverse regions, from Yellowstone National Park to central China, where viticulture might begin in panda habitat. The largest new area suitable for growing wine grapes will be the Rocky Mountains near the U.S.-Canada border, where large-scale viniculture would put the grizzly bear, the gray wolf, pronghorn deer, caribou and other species at substantially greater risk.

“Climate change is going to move potential wine-producing regions all over the map and  put the squeeze on wildlife in some surprising places,” said Lee Hannah. “And this is just the tip of the iceberg; the same will be true for many other crops.”

“We are eager to apply this study on wine grapes to a larger conversation about agricultural production and the management of land, water and wildlife resources in a changing climate,” said Dr. Rebecca Shaw, a climate scientist and associate vice president for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Land, Water and Wildlife program.  “Climate change is putting stress on water resources and wildlife habitat and could set up increasing competition between agricultural production and wildlife.

“Fortunately, there are solutions,” she adds.

They include raising consumer awareness, forming conservation partnerships between growers and NGOs like EDF, and taking steps to slow climate change. Adaptation strategies are urgently needed to ensure continued production of wine grapes and other crops and minimal impacts on land and freshwater ecosystems. The authors suggested strategies include planning vineyard expansion to avoid areas of high environmental importance, investing in new grapes varieties that can tolerate a warmer climate, and improving cooling technologies, for instance, by using high-efficiency sprinklers.

“Climate change poses a challenge to producing high-quality wine with minimal environmental impact,” says Roehrdanz. “But many vintners are already implementing management practices to reduce ecological impacts and promote biodiversity in vineyard landscapes.These partnerships build hope for the future.”

“If we think ahead about these potential conflicts, we can plan for adaptation to climate change that will allow us to feed the world, protect an important economic sector and protect the wildlife we love,” said Shaw.