Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #286604

Title: Phenological patterns of Chihuahuan desert perennial grasses and shrubs in normal and below-average precipitation years

item Browning, Dawn
item Mattocks, Michelle

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/12/2012
Publication Date: 3/18/2012
Citation: Browning, D.M., Mattocks, M.M. 2012. Phenological patterns of Chihuahuan desert perennial grasses and shrubs in normal and below-average precipitation years [abstract]. 6th Annual Phenology Research and Observations of Southwest Ecosystems (PROSE) Symposium, March 19, 2012, Tucson, Arizona.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Observations of plant phenology in Arid and semi-arid regions of the southwestern USA serve as salient indicators of plant responses to changing climate. Repeated consistent phenology observations in conjunction with local climatological (e.g., precipitation, temperature) and soil (e.g., moisture, temperature) measurements are key to elucidating the role of abiotic drivers in the timing of lifecycle events. We initiated weekly observations of plant phenology in March 2010 at a Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) site on the Jornada Experimental Range in southern New Mexico. Weekly observations for 20 individuals across three functional groups - perennial grasses (Aristida purpurea, Sporobolus spp., and Pleuraphis mutica), the deciduous shrub honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) and the evergreen shrub creosote (Larrea tridentata) – were conducted using National Phenology Network (NPN) protocols. We compare and contrast phenology patterns by functional group in the context of precipitation for 2010 and 2011 rain years. Dates of first leaf (initial growth), open flowers and fruit production are noted; in addition, the time from initial growth to full canopy and from flower to fruit production were calculated for both growing seasons. Rainfall in the 2010 rain year (213.4-mm) was near the long-term average (245-mm). Aristida and Sporobolus grasses initiated growth prior to 17 Mar 2010. Mesquite initiated growth later (19 Apr 2010), but achieved full canopy within 4.5 weeks. In contrast, canopy development for grasses in 2010 occurred over 22 weeks. Time from first flower to fruit for grasses in 2010 ranged from 2 (for Sporobolus and Pleuraphis) to 2.7 weeks (for Aristida). Rainfall in the 2011 was far below average (89.4-mm) and encapsulated 242 consecutive dry days. Initial growth for all grasses was delayed until 11 Jul 2011, presumably due to deficit rainfall conditions. No grasses produced flowers or fruit in 2011. In contrast, mesquite and creosote shrubs initiated growth prior to the first rain event after 08 Oct 2010 (06 Jun 2011). We hypothesize that changes in soil temperature at depth trigger initial growth for deep-rooted shrubs. Next steps are to evaluate the soil temperature hypothesis with soil measurements and examine relationships between environmental variables and phenophase transitions using a proportional hazards model.