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ARS Home » Plains Area » Temple, Texas » Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #356995

Research Project: Development and Evaluation of Sustainable Crop and Grassland Production Systems

Location: Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Climate and local environment structure asynchrony and the stability of primary production in grasslands

item GILBERT, B - University Of Toronto
item MACDOUGALL, A - University Of Guelph
item KADOYA, T - National Institute Of Environmental Research
item AKASAKA, M - Tokyo University Of Agriculture & Technology
item BENNETT, J - Carleton University - Canada
item LIND, E - University Of Minnesota
item FLORES-MORENO, H - University Of Minnesota
item FIRN, J - University Of Queensland
item HAUTIER, Y - Utrecht University
item BORER, E - University Of Minnesota
item SEABLOOM, E - University Of Minnesota
item ADLER, P - Utah State University
item CLELAND, E - University Of California
item GRACE, J - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item HARPOLE, W - Martin Luther University
item ESCH, E - University Of California
item MOORE, J - Monash University
item KNOPS, J - University Of Nebraska
item MCCULLEY, R - University Of Kentucky
item MORTENSEN, B - Iowa State University
item BAKKER, J - University Of Washington
item Fay, Philip

Submitted to: Global Ecology and Biogeorgraphy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/25/2020
Publication Date: 6/3/2020
Citation: Gilbert, B., MacDougall, A.S., Kadoya, T., Akasaka, M., Bennett, J.R., Lind, E.M., Flores-Moreno, H., Firn, J., Hautier, Y., Borer, E.T., Seabloom, E.W., Adler, P.B., Cleland, E.E., Grace, J.B., Harpole, W.S., Esch, E.H., Moore, J.L., Knops, J., McCulley, R., Mortensen, B., Bakker, J., Fay, P.A. 2020. Climate and local environment structure asynchrony and the stability of primary production in grasslands. Global Ecology and Biogeorgraphy. 29(7):1177-1188.

Interpretive Summary: Improving the sustainability of agroecosystems requires a fundamental understanding of the effects of environmental variability on primary productivity, a critical ecosystem function contributing to agroecosystem yield. In particular, climate variability is predicted to increase with as global temperatures continue to warm, resulting in more frequent occurrence of extreme climate events. By analyzing the response to climate variability in thirty-one grassland ecosystems spread across North America, Europe, and Australia, we found that the stability of grassland productivity was buffered against moderate levels of climatic variability by differences in the timing of growth among the plant species, but if climate variability was extreme, this mechanism was unable to buffer grassland productivity. The results suggest that beyond a threshhold of climatic variability, sustainability of productivity in grassland-based agroecosystems may become more difficult to maintain.

Technical Abstract: Climatic variability and the frequency of extreme climatic events are increasing in many regions of the world. Asynchronous dynamics in plant communities can stabilize ecological functions, like primary production, against climatic variability, as occurs when decreased performance by some species is offset by increases in the performance of others. We hypothesize that these biological buffering mechanisms may be overwhelmed by high climatic variability, as specialization on extreme climate may be impossible given physiological constraints. However, whether high climatic variability weakens asynchrony remains poorly understood, representing an important gap in understanding responses to changing climate. Here, we sampled thirty-one grasslands globally over a half-decade and tested the effects of precipitation and temperature variability on asynchrony and the stability of primary productivity. We found that asynchrony stabilized primary production in all regions, and strengthened with moderate climatic variability globally. Extremes of precipitation and temperature variability, however, reduced asynchrony by converging responses among grassland species. We also detected regional sensitivities to high variability, with Europe particularly sensitive to increasing temperature fluctuations, and the Pacific region of North America most sensitive to increased variation in precipitation. This work demonstrates biological buffering to climatic variability through asynchrony, but also reveals thresholds beyond which species exhibit increasingly convergent dynamics that in turn destabilize primary production.