Grasslands are an important land use in Europe with essential functions for feed and ecosystem service supply. Impact assessment modelling of European agriculture and the environment needs to consider grasslands and requires spatially explicit information on grassland distribution and productivity, which is not available. This paper presents and analyses spatially explicit data of grassland productivity and land use across regions in Europe. Data are extracted from various regional, national and international census statistics for Europe, extending eastwards to the Ural Mountains. Regional differences in grassland productivity are analysed considering selected climatic and agronomic parameters and are compared with the remotely sensed normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) and simulations from two impact assessment models. Temporal productivity changes are investigated for selected regions. As grassland is mainly used for animal feed stuff, the spatial distribution of milk productivity is also analyzed. Results show large regional differences in grassland productivity and land use in Europe. Grassland productivity is highly correlated with annual precipitation and less with annual temperature sum and growing season length. The correlation with NDVI is low. Comparison with large-scale simulations from two different models reveal that simulated spatial patterns of grassland productivity differ from the data obtained in this study, which may be attributable to the under-representation of management effects in these models. Grassland productivity has increased in recent decades, but the average annual genetic gain is different between temporary (0.5%) and permanent grassland (0.25%). The spatial pattern of milk productivity across Europe is similar to the productivity of grassland, suggesting that grassland productivity plays a major role in the distribution of milk productivity. The dataset described in this paper extends the present understanding of the spatial distribution and temporal changes in grassland productivity and land use in Europe. The dataset forms a suitable basis for evaluating large-scale (grassland) productivity models, for which observed data are scarce. However, the definition of grasslands and the collection of data across European countries need to be more consistent and standardised to improve the quality of European grassland productivity and land use data. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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