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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGIES FOR CONSERVATION OF WESTERN RANGELANDS

Location: Range Management Research

Title: Mechanisms of grass response in grasslands and shrublands during dry or wet periods

Authors
item Peters, Debra
item Yao, Jin -
item Browning, Dawn
item Rango, Albert

Submitted to: Oecologia
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 8, 2013
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/58692
Citation: Peters, D.C., Yao, J., Browning, D.M., Rango, A. 2014. Mechanisms of grass response in grasslands and shrublands during dry or wet periods. Oecologia. 174:1323-1334.

Interpretive Summary: We used a suite of long-term datasets (1993-2010) to examine the processes underlying different relationships between aboveground net primary production (ANPP) and precipitation in wet and dry rainfall periods in shrublands and grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert. We hypothesized that trends in ANPP can be explained by different processes associated with their dominant grasses [black grama (grasslands); mesa dropseed (shrublands)], and with ecosystem properties that influence soil water dynamics with feedbacks to ANPP. In grasslands, ANPP was linearly related to precipitation regardless of rainfall period, primarily as a result of black grama stolons. In shrublands, ANPP was only related to rainfall in the wet period when it increased nonlinearly as the number of wet years increased. Seed availability increased in the first year, and seedling establishment occurred two to four years later. Understanding the processes underlying ecosystem dynamics in multi-year dry or wet periods is expected to improve predictions under directional increases or decreases in rainfall.

Technical Abstract: Multi-year climatic periods are expected to increase with global change, yet long-term data are often insufficient to document factors leading to ecological responses. We used a suite of long-term datasets (1993-2010) to examine the processes underlying different relationships between aboveground net primary production (ANPP) and precipitation in wet and dry rainfall periods in shrublands and grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert. We hypothesized that trends in ANPP can be explained by different processes associated with their dominant grasses [Bouteloua eriopoda (grasslands); Sporobolus flexuosus (shrublands)], and with ecosystem properties that influence soil water dynamics with feedbacks to ANPP. We compared datasets on recruitment and growth for seven years with no trend in precipitation followed by a four-year drought and five consecutive wet years. We integrated these data in a simulation model to examine the importance of positive feedbacks. In grasslands, ANPP was linearly related to precipitation regardless of rainfall period, primarily as a result of stolon recruitment by B. eriopoda. A lag in responses suggests the importance of legacies associated with stolon density. In shrublands, ANPP was only related to rainfall in the wet period when it increased nonlinearly as the number of wet years increased. Seed availability increased in the first year, and seedling establishment occurred two to four years later. Increases in biomass, litter, and simulated transpiration beginning in the third year corresponded with increases in ANPP. Understanding the processes underlying ecosystem dynamics in multi-year dry or wet periods is expected to improve predictions under directional increases or decreases in rainfall.

Last Modified: 7/23/2014
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