Climate Effects on Tea Quality and Socioeconomic Responses

This project focuses on why and how tea quality is vulnerable to changing climate conditions and how changes in quality may affect farming communities and land-use strategies. Tea production and consumption systems are used as a case study to explore complex interactions among human and natural systems. This interdisciplinary research project will examine how links among tea agroecosystems, markets, and farmers are impacted by increased climate variability and the resulting socioecological feedbacks. The investigators will ground their research in socioecological and chemical ecology theory. They will employ a range of research methods, including field sampling in tea-producing areas of China; controlled greenhouse experiments; biochemical and sensory analyses of tea samples; consumer surveys of purchasing decisions and price modeling; farmer surveys of ecological knowledge, management, social networks, and livelihoods; and multivariate modeling of climate and management scenarios.

This project will provide new information and insights regarding climate effects on crop quality and to facilitate societal actions towards sustainability of agro-ecosystems and farmer livelihoods. The project will enhance theoretical understandings regarding human-environment relationships and shed new light on the dynamics of climate change, agroecosystems, markets, and agricultural practices. Project findings will assist in the development of evidence-based management plans and policy suggestions for land-use organizations in tea producing areas. Although this project focuses on tea production and related environmental conditions in China, it will yield insights that have value in exploring the complex relationships between quality-related market-driven forces and changing natural conditions for a broad range of environmentally sensitive resource-related activities across the globe. Examples of other economic activities for which real and perceived changes in product quality associated with even-minor changes in environmental conditions may have profound impacts include wine production in the U.S. and elsewhere, cherry production in Washington state and Michigan, and skiing conditions in the Rockies and New England. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

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