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  1. Abstract

    Climate change is impacting global crop productivity, and agricultural land suitability is predicted to significantly shift in the future. Responses to changing conditions and increasing yield variability can range from altered management strategies to outright land use conversions that may have significant environmental and socioeconomic ramifications. However, the extent to which agricultural land use changes in response to variations in climate is unclear at larger scales. Improved understanding of these dynamics is important since land use changes will have consequences not only for food security but also for ecosystem health, biodiversity, carbon storage, and regional and global climate. In this study, we combine land use products derived from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer with climate reanalysis data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Reanalysis v5 to analyze correspondence between changes in cropland and changes in temperature and water availability from 2001 to 2018. While climate trends explained little of the variability in land cover changes, increasing temperature, extreme heat days, potential evaporation, and drought severity were associated with higher levels of cropland loss. These patterns were strongest in regions with more cropland change, and generally reflected underlying climate suitability—they were amplified in hotter and drier regions, and reversed direction in cooler and wetter regions. At national scales, climate response patterns varied significantly, reflecting the importance of socioeconomic, political, and geographic factors, as well as differences in adaptation strategies. This global-scale analysis does not attempt to explain local mechanisms of change but identifies climate-cropland patterns that exist in aggregate and may be hard to perceive at local scales. It is intended to supplement regional studies, providing further context for locally-observed phenomena and highlighting patterns that require further analysis.

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