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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGIES FOR CONSERVATION OF WESTERN RANGELANDS

Location: Range Management Research

Title: Regional signatures of plant response to drought and elevated temperature across a desert ecosystem

Authors
item Munson, Seth -
item Muldavin, Esteban -
item Belnap, Jayne -
item Peters, Debra
item Anderson, John -
item Reiser, M. Hildehard -
item Gallo, Kirsten -
item Melgoza-Castillo, Alicia -
item Herrick, Jeffrey
item Christiansen, Tim -

Submitted to: Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: April 5, 2013
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/58115
Citation: Munson, S., Muldavin, E.H., Belnap, J., Peters, D.C., Anderson, J.P., Reiser, M., Gallo, K., Melgoza-Castillo, A., Herrick, J.E., Christiansen, T.A. 2013. Regional signatures of plant response to drought and elevated temperature across a desert ecosystem. Ecology. 94(9):2030-2041.

Interpretive Summary: We compared climate and vegetation data from multiple Chihuahuan Desert sites to determone which species and functional types were most sensitive to climate. The dominant grass and species richness decreased more in dry summers than it increased in wet summers. Winter precipittaion best explained changes in cover of woody plants. We identified “climate pivot points” that were indicative of shifts from increasing to decreasing plant cover over a range of climatic conditions. Reductions in cover of annual and several perennial plant species, and declines in species richness indicate a decrease in the productivity with a decrease in rainfall for all but the most drought tolerant species. Overall, our regional synthesis of long-term data provides a robust foundation for forecasting future shifts in the composition and structure of plant assemblages in the largest North American warm desert.

Technical Abstract: We paired results from climate and vegetation monitoring at multiple sites across the Chihuahuan Desert over the last century to determine which plant species and functional types may be the most sensitive to climate change. We found that the dominant perennial grass, Bouteloua eriopoda, and species richness had non-linear responses to summer precipitation, decreasing more in dry summers than increasing with wet summers. Dominant shrub species responded differently to the seasonality of precipitation and drought, but winter precipitation best explained changes in the cover of woody vegetation in upland grasslands. Temperature explained additional variability of changes in cover of dominant and subdominant plant species. Using a novel empirically-based approach, we identified “climate pivot points” that were indicative of shifts from increasing to decreasing plant cover over a range of climatic conditions. Reductions in cover of annual and several perennial plant species, in addition to declines in species richness below the long-term summer precipitation mean across plant communities indicate a decrease in the productivity for all but the most drought tolerant perennial grasses and shrubs in the Chihuahuan Desert. Overall, our regional synthesis of long-term data provides a robust foundation for forecasting future shifts in the composition and structure of plant assemblages in the largest North American warm desert.

Last Modified: 9/1/2014
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