Characterizing heat stress on livestock using the temperature humidity index (THI)—prospects for a warmer Caribbean

There is an urgent need to mitigate climate change-induced heat stress in livestock and poultry in the Caribbean, given the deleterious effects it has on food and nutrition security. The temperature humidity index (THI) was used to assess the potential for heat stress on four types of livestock and poultry (broiler and layer chickens, pigs and ruminants) for three different agro-ecological locations in Jamaica. The THI was formulated specifically to each livestock type and was examined for 2001–2012 for seasonal and annual patterns of variability. Differences in THI were observed between summer (July to September) and winter (December to February) with some moderation due to agro-ecological location. Our results suggest that animals in ambient field conditions in Jamaica may already be experiencing considerable periods of heat stress even during the relatively cooler northern hemisphere winter months. Future patterns of heat stress relative to a 1961–1990 baseline were derived from a regional climate model when mean global surface air temperature is 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. At 1.5 °C, marked increases were noted in THI and almost persistent year-round heat stress is projected for Caribbean livestock. Conditions will be exacerbated at the higher global warming states. Possible response strategies such as cooling technologies are discussed.

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