, Volume 150, Issue 3, pp 453-463
Date: 06 Sep 2006

The sensitivity of ecosystem carbon exchange to seasonal precipitation and woody plant encroachment

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Abstract

Ongoing, widespread increases in woody plant abundance in historical grasslands and savannas (woody encroachment) likely will interact with future precipitation variability to influence seasonal patterns of carbon cycling in water-limited regions. To characterize the effects of woody encroachment on the sensitivity of ecosystem carbon exchange to seasonal rainfall in a semi-arid riparian setting we used flux-duration analysis to compare 2003-growing season NEE data from a riparian grassland and shrubland. Though less seasonally variable than the grassland, shrubland NEE was more responsive to monsoon rains than anticipated. During the 2004-growing season we measured leaf gas exchange and collected leaf tissue for δ13C and nitrogen content analysis periodically among three size classes of the dominant woody-plant, Prosopis velutina and the dominant understory species, Sporobolus wrightii, a C4 bunchgrass, present at the shrubland. We observed size-class and plant functional type independent patterns of seasonal plant performance consistent with greater-than-anticipated sensitivity of NEE in the shrubland. This research highlights the complex interaction between growing-season precipitation, plant-available alluvial groundwater and woody plant abundance governing ecosystem carbon balance in this semi-arid watershed.

Communicated by Jim Ehleringer.