, Volume 155, Issue 1, pp 123-132
Date: 30 Oct 2007

Aboveground net primary production dynamics in a northern Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem

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Aboveground net primary production (ANPP) dynamics are a key element in the understanding of ecosystem processes. For semiarid environments, the pulse-reserve framework links ANPP to variable and unpredictable precipitation events contingent on surficial hydrology, soil moisture dynamics, biodiversity structure, trophic dynamics, and landscape context. Consequently, ANPP may be decoupled periodically from processes such as decomposition and may be subjected to complex feedbacks and thresholds at broader scales. As currently formulated, the pulse-reserve framework may not encompass the breadth of ANPP response to seasonal patterns of precipitation and heat inputs. Accordingly, we examined a 6-year (1999–2004), seasonal record of ANPP with respect to precipitation, soil moisture dynamics, and functional groups in a black grama (Bouteloua eriopoda) grassland and a creosotebush (Larrea tridentata) shrubland in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Annual ANPP was similar in the grassland (51.1 g/m2) and shrubland (59.2 g/m2) and positively correlated with annual precipitation. ANPP differed among communities with respect to life forms and functional groups and responses to abiotic drivers. In keeping with the pulse-reserve model, ANPP in black grama grassland was dominated by warm-season C4 grasses and subshrubs that responded to large, transient summer storms and associated soil moisture in the upper 30 cm. In contrast, ANPP in creosotebush shrubland occasionally responded to summer moisture, but the predominant pattern was slower, non-pulsed growth of cool-season C3 shrubs during spring, in response to winter soil moisture accumulation and the breaking of cold dormancy. Overall, production in this Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem reflected a mix of warm-temperate arid land pulse dynamics during the summer monsoon and non-pulsed dynamics in spring driven by winter soil moisture accumulation similar to that of cool-temperate regions.

Communicated by Alan Knapp.