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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #356826

Research Project: Improved Management to Balance Production and Conservation in Great Plains Rangelands

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Title: Comparing water-related plant functional traits among dominant grasses of the Colorado Plateau: Implications for drought resistance

item Hoover, David
item KORIAKIN, KELLY - University Of Florida
item ALBRIGSTEN, JOHANNE - University Of Colorado
item OCHELTREE, TROY - Colorado State University

Submitted to: Plant and Soil
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/23/2019
Publication Date: 5/27/2019
Citation: Hoover, D.L., Koriakin, K., Albrigsten, J., Ocheltree, T. 2019. Comparing water-related plant functional traits among dominant grasses of the Colorado Plateau: Implications for drought resistance. Plant and Soil. 441:207-218.

Interpretive Summary: Water availability is predicted to decrease with climate change, particularly in drylands, which are already very water-limited environments. Such changes may have big impacts on plant communities. Plant traits such as rooting depth or aboveground biomass can be used to classify and predict which plant species or groups of plant species will be most vulnerable to a drier environment. In this study, we examined 15 water-related traits of five key grasses from the Colorado Plateau in the southwestern US. We found that the traits varied widely and not always based on prior classifications. Furthermore we were able to create new classifications and used that to predict which species were most vulnerable to future drought. Based on the traits and the predictions for the region, we determined that the cool season grasses will be most vulnerable to decreased water availability, which will likely have large ecological and socioeconomic impacts.

Technical Abstract: Water is the primary limiting factor for plants in drylands, which are projected to become even drier with climate change. Plant functional traits related to water influences individual performance, community composition, and can provide insight into which species will be most vulnerable to changes in water availability.Here, we used a trait-based approach to examine key water-related traits of five perennial grasses of the Colorado Plateau, with the goals of identifying functional trait syndromes, and assessing vulnerability to drought. We examined 15 traits including hydraulic, above- and belowground biomass, and morphology, then assessed how these traits varied by species, and photosynthetic pathway. Individual water-related traits varied widely, but did not consistently vary by photosynthetic pathway. We identified three unique functional trait syndromes that could be classified as either conservative or not-conservative with regards to water use. Variation in water-related traits may be key to the coexistence of species in drylands, but there is uncertainty as which traits or functional trait syndromes will be most vulnerable to changes in climate. Based on the traits examined here, and predicted changes in climate for the region, we predict that the cool-season, C3 grasses will be most vulnerable to a drying, more drought-prone region.