Submitted to: Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/17/2009
Publication Date: 10/1/2009
Citation: Peters, D.C., Herrick, J.E., Monger, H., Huang, H. 2009. Soil-vegetation-climate interactions in arid landscapes: Effects of the North American monsoon on grass recruitment. Journal of Arid Environments. 74:618-623.
Interpretive Summary: Shifts from perennial grasslands to woody plant-dominated systems characterize many arid and semiarid regions of the world. Difficulty in reversing desertification is often attributed to feedbacks between plants and soils that promote woody plants. Processes that can limit grass recovery can also be important. We used a simulation model of soil water dynamics to integrate effects of soils, vegetation, and climate on the recruitment of black grama, the historically dominant grass in the Chihuahuan Desert. Our results show high spatial variability in recruitment under current conditions can be explained by interactions among soils and vegetation that influence soil water availability to seedlings. Changes in the North American monsoon that reduce rainfall could result in large-scale losses of this grass species as a result of low seasonal water availability. Our results are important in showing that seasonal changes in rainfall can act to either reinforce current vegetation patterns or to accelerate shifts from perennial grasses to shrubs.
Technical Abstract: We used a daily time step, multi-layer simulation model of soil water dynamics to integrate effects of soils, vegetation, and climate on the recruitment of Bouteloua eriopoda (black grama), the historically dominant grass in the Chihuahuan Desert. We simulated landscapes at the Jornada ARS-LTER site with heterogeneous soil properties to compare: (1) a grass-dominated landscape in 1858 with the current shrub-dominated landscape (i.e., a change in vegetation structure), and (2) the current shrub-dominated landscape with future landscapes over a range of climate scenarios associated with the North American monsoon (i.e., a change in climate). A historic shift from high productivity grasslands to low productivity shrublands decreased simulated recruitment for most of the site; the amount of reduction depended on location-specific soil properties and changes in production. In some cases, soil properties interacted with vegetation structure: soils high in clay content maintained high recruitment even with a decrease in production. Wetter summers would increase recruitment in all vegetation types. Drier summers below 25% of current rainfall would decrease recruitment to negligible values (< 0.03) throughout the landscape. We used our results to identify the conditions where recruitment of B. eriopoda is possible with and without significant modifications to soil and vegetation.