Sensitivity Analysis of the APEX Model for Assessing Sustainability of Switchgrass Grown for Biofuel Production in Central Texas
Crop simulation models are increasingly being used to understand the feasibility of large-scale cellulosic biofuel production along with the multi-dimensional impacts on environmental sustainability. However, how the uncertainty in model parameters impacts model performance for sustainability is unclear. In this case study, sensitivity analyses were conducted for three switchgrass sustainability metrics: total biomass production, nitrogen loss, and soil carbon change using the APEX (Agricultural Policy/Environmental eXtender) model. Fifteen out of the 45 parameters (25 crop growth (CROP) parameters and 20 additional model parameters (PARM)) were identified as influential for the three sustainability metrics for three lowland genotypes (WBC, AP13, and KAN) across two locations (Temple, TX, and Austin, TX). Our sensitivity results showed that parameter importance was not dependent on the genotypes but depended on the variables of interest, and differed only slightly between locations. Influential belowground-related CROP and PARM parameters were identified for each sustainability metric, indicating that belowground-related parameters are just as important as commonly measured aboveground CROP parameters. Further investigation of the linear or non-linear relationships and the two-way interactions between each of the individual influential parameters with the three sustainability metrics reflected the functions and characteristics within the APEX model and the interrelations among different processes. Strong interactions between the most influential parameters for total biomass, nitrogen loss, and soil carbon change also highlighted the importance of accurately setting these parameters. Identification of influential model parameters for switchgrass sustainability may help guide field measurements and provide further understanding of the interrelated processes in the APEX model. Furthermore, future field experiments can be designed to measure these influential parameters and understand the non-linear relationships identified between influential parameters and response variables. More accurate model parameterization will help improve APEX model performance and our understanding of the possible underlying physiological mechanisms.
Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12155-017-9878-8