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Primary production responses to extreme changes in North American Monsoon precipitation vary by elevation and plant functional composition through time

June 17, 2022
  1. Primary production in dryland ecosystems is limited by water availability and projected to be strongly affected by future shifts in seasonal precipitation. Warm-season precipitation derived from the North American Monsoon contributes 40% of annual precipitation to dryland ecosystems in the southwestern U.S. and is projected to become more variable. However, there is large uncertainty on whether this variability will be expressed as either extreme wet or dry years and how primary production of different plant functional types will respond across widespread elevation gradients in this region.
  2. We experimentally imposed extreme drought and water addition treatments from 2016 – 2020, during which ambient warm-season precipitation declined to reach historic lows, to understand production sensitivity of dominant plant functional types along a 1,000 m elevation gradient.
  3. We found that the production responses of plant functional types to monsoon precipitation extremes were dependent on the number of treatment years that occurred across sites along the elevation gradient. C4 perennial grasses were most responsive to precipitation manipulation treatments, followed by C3 perennial grasses and annuals, while perennial forbs and shrubs had weak or no responses. C4 perennial grass reductions due to extreme drought were generally stronger or occurred earlier at low elevation sites, while multi-year extreme drought extended negative effects to C3 perennial grasses at high elevation, and all sites showed delayed responses to multi-year water addition. We found that the sensitivity of C3 perennial grass production differed for extreme drought and water addition compared to ambient precipitation at one site, but other sites and plant functional types had similar sensitivities to the different treatment types.
  4. Synthesis. The upward advance of primary production responsiveness from single- to multi-year extreme changes in warm-season precipitation suggests more immediate shifts in functional composition and carbon cycling at low elevation, while high elevation ecosystems may become less resistant as the effects of extreme precipitation compound through time.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Primary production responses to extreme changes in North American Monsoon precipitation vary by elevation and plant functional composition through time
DOI 10.1111/1365-2745.13947
Authors Seth M. Munson, John Bradford, Bradley J. Butterfield, Jennifer R. Gremer
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Ecology
Series Number
Index ID 70232249
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center

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