Functional Group, Biomass, and Climate Change Effects on Ecological Drought in Semiarid Grasslands

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Water relations in plant communities are influenced both by contrasting functional groups (grasses and shrubs) and by climate change via complex effects on interception, uptake, and transpiration. We modeled the effects of functional group replacement and biomass increase, both of which can be outcomes of invasion and vegetation management, and climate change on ecological drought (soil water potential below which photosynthesis stops) in 340 semiarid grassland sites over 30 year periods. Relative to control vegetation (climate and site-determined mixes of functional groups), the frequency and duration of drought were increased by shrubs and decreased by annual grasses. The rankings of shrubs, control vegetation, and annual grasses in terms of drought effects were generally consistent in current and future climates, suggesting that current differences among functional groups on drought effects predict future differences. Climate change accompanied by experimentally increased biomass (i.e., the effects of invasions that increase community biomass or management that increases productivity through fertilization or respite from grazing) increased drought frequency and duration and advanced drought onset. Our results suggest that the replacement of perennial temperate semiarid grasslands by shrubs, or increased biomass, can increase ecological drought in both current and future climates.




Wilson, S. D., Schlaepfer, D. R., Bradford, J. B., Lauenroth, W. K., Duniway, M. C., Hall, S. A., … Tietjen, B. (2018). Functional Group, Biomass, and Climate Change Effects on Ecological Drought in Semiarid Grasslands. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 123(3), 1072–1085.

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