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Journal of Arid Land  2022, Vol. 14 Issue (7): 771-786    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-022-0021-0
Research article     
Assessment of drought and its impact on winter wheat yield in the Chinese Loess Plateau
WANG Fengjiao1, FU Bojie2, LIANG Wei1,3,*(), JIN Zhao4, ZHANG Liwei1, YAN Jianwu1,3, FU Shuyi5, GOU Fen1
1School of Geography and Tourism, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an 710119, China
2State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China
3National Demonstration Center for Experimental Geography Education, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an 710119, China
4State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Northwest A&F University, Yangling 712100, China
5School of Geography and Planning, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
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Drought has pronounced and immediate impacts on agricultural production, especially in semi-arid and arid rainfed agricultural regions. Quantification of drought and its impact on crop yield is essential to agricultural water resource management and food security. We investigated drought and its impact on winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) yield in the Chinese Loess Plateau from 2001 to 2015. Specifically, we performed a varimax rotated principal component analysis on drought severity index (DSI) separately for four winter wheat growth periods: pre-sowing growth period (PG), early growth period (EG), middle growth period (MG), and late growth period (LG), resulting in three major subregional DSI dynamics for each growth period. The county-level projections of these major dynamics were then used to evaluate the growth period-specific impacts of DSI on winter wheat yields by using multiple linear regression analysis. Our results showed that the growth period-specific subregions had different major DSI dynamics. During PG, the northwestern area exhibited a rapid wetting trend, while small areas in the south showed a slight drying trend. The remaining subregions fluctuated between dryness and wetness. During EG, the northeastern and western areas exhibited a mild wetting trend. The remaining subregions did not display clear wetting or drying trends. During MG, the eastern and southwestern areas showed slight drying and wetting trends, respectively. The subregions scattered in the north and south had a significant wetting trend. During LG, large areas in the east and west exhibited wetting trends, whereas small parts in south-central area had a slight drying trend. Most counties in the north showed significant and slight wetting trends during PG, EG, and LG, whereas a few southwestern counties exhibited significant drying trends during PG and MG. Our analysis identified close and positive relationships between yields and DSI during LG, and revealed that almost all of the counties were vulnerable to drought. Similar but less strong relationships existed for MG, in which northeastern and eastern counties were more drought-vulnerable than other counties. In contrast, a few drought-sensitive counties were mainly located in the southwestern and eastern areas during PG, and in the northeastern corner of the study region during EG. Overall, our study dissociated growth period-specific and spatial location-specific impacts of drought on winter wheat yield, and might contribute to a better understanding of monitoring and early warning of yield loss.

Key wordsdrought severity index      winter wheat      crop yield      principal component analysis      Loess Plateau     
Received: 16 January 2022      Published: 31 July 2022
Corresponding Authors: * LIANG Wei (E-mail:
Cite this article:

WANG Fengjiao, FU Bojie, LIANG Wei, JIN Zhao, ZHANG Liwei, YAN Jianwu, FU Shuyi, GOU Fen. Assessment of drought and its impact on winter wheat yield in the Chinese Loess Plateau. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(7): 771-786.

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Fig. 1 Overview of the winter wheat producing counties in the Chinese Loess Plateau
Category DSI Category DSI
Extremely wet ≥1.50 Incipient drought -0.30 - -0.59
Very wet 1.20-1.49 Mid drought -0.60 - -0.89
Moderately wet 0.90-1.19 Moderate drought -0.90 - -1.19
Slightly wet 0.60-0.89 Severe drought -1.20 - -1.49
Incipient wet spell 0.30-0.59 Extreme drought ≤ -1.50
Near normal 0.29- -0.29
Table 1 Categories for wet and dry conditions of the drought severity index (DSI)
Fig. 2 Percentages of variances explained by the first three principal components (PC1-PC3) for DSI during different growth periods of winter wheat in the Chinese Loess Plateau. PG, pre-sowing growth period; EG, early growth period; MG, middle growth period; LG, late growth period; DSI, drought severity index; RPC, rotated principal component.
Fig. 3 Spatial patterns of DSI in subregions of the Chinese Loess Plateau, defined by the first three rotated principal components (RPC1-RPC3) during PG (a-c), EG (d-f), MG (g-i), and LG (j-k). PG, pre-sowing growth period; EG, early growth period; MG, middle growth period; LG, late growth period. Dark red areas indicate subregions that were identified by setting 0.6 as the threshold for the normalized loading matrices. DSI, drought severity index.
Fig. 4 Temporal dynamics and Mann-Kendal (M-K) statistics of DSI (drought severity index) in each subregion during PG (a-c), EG (d-f), MG (g-i), and LG (j-k) of winter wheat in the Chinese Loess Plateau. PG, pre-sowing growth period; EG, early growth period; MG, middle growth period; LG, late growth period. The Mann-Kendal test generated three types of statistical parameters, i.e., Z-score, UB and UF. Z-score indicated the significance of trend, and UB and UF indicated abrupt changes via their intersections. Slopes are estimated trends of RPCs. **, |Z|>2.58, significant trend at 99% confidence level.
Fig. 5 Trends of DSI (drought severity index) during PG (a), EG (b), MG (c), and LG (d) of winter wheat in each county of the Chinese Loess Plateau. Counties shaded by dots showed significant trends in their main DSI. PG, pre-sowing growth period; EG, early growth period; MG, middle growth period, and LG, late growth period.
Fig. 6 Spatial patterns of regression coefficients between DSI (drought severity index) and winter wheat yield anomalies during PG (a), EG (b), MG (c), and LG (d). PG, pre-sowing growth period; EG, early growth period; MG, middle growth period; LG, late growth period.
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