Precipitation timing and magnitude differentially affect aboveground annual net primary productivity in three perennial species in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland

Traesha R Robertson, Colin W Bell, John C Zak, David T Tissue
New Phytologist 2009, 181 (1): 230-242
Plant productivity in deserts may be more directly responsive to soil water availability than to precipitation. However, measurement of soil moisture alone may not be enough to elucidate plant responses to precipitation pulses, as edaphic factors may influence productivity when soil moisture is adequate. The first objective of the study was to determine the responses of the aboveground annual net primary productivity (ANPP) of three perennial species (from different functional groups) in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland to variation in natural precipitation (annual and seasonal) and a 25% increase in seasonal precipitation (supplemental watering in summer and winter). Secondly, ANPP responses to other key environmental and soil parameters were explored during dry, average, and wet years over a 5-yr period. ANPP predictors for each species were dynamic. High ANPP in Dasylirion leiophyllum was positively associated with higher soil NH(4)-N and frequent larger precipitation events, while that in Bouteloua curtipendula was positively correlated with frequent small summer precipitation events with short inter-pulse periods and supplemental winter water. Opuntia phaeacantha was responsive to small precipitation events with short inter-pulse periods. Although several studies have shown ANPP increases with increases in precipitation and soil moisture in desert systems, this was not observed here as a universal predictor of ANPP, particularly in dry years.

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