, Volume 141, Issue 2, pp 236–253 | Cite as

Resource pulses, species interactions, and diversity maintenance in arid and semi-arid environments

  • Peter Chesson
  • Renate L. E. Gebauer
  • Susan Schwinning
  • Nancy Huntly
  • Kerstin Wiegand
  • Morgan S. K. Ernest
  • Anna Sher
  • Ariel Novoplansky
  • Jake F. Weltzin
Pulse Events and Arid Ecosystems


Arid environments are characterized by limited and variable rainfall that supplies resources in pulses. Resource pulsing is a special form of environmental variation, and the general theory of coexistence in variable environments suggests specific mechanisms by which rainfall variability might contribute to the maintenance of high species diversity in arid ecosystems. In this review, we discuss physiological, morphological, and life-history traits that facilitate plant survival and growth in strongly water-limited variable environments, outlining how species differences in these traits may promote diversity. Our analysis emphasizes that the variability of pulsed environments does not reduce the importance of species interactions in structuring communities, but instead provides axes of ecological differentiation between species that facilitate their coexistence. Pulses of rainfall also influence higher trophic levels and entire food webs. Better understanding of how rainfall affects the diversity, species composition, and dynamics of arid environments can contribute to solving environmental problems stemming from land use and global climate change.


Coexistence Precipitation Environmental variability Storage effect Relative nonlinearity 



We thank the organizers of the workshop and all the participants for stimulating discussion. The workshop was supported by NSF grant 0222313. Participation of K.W. in the workshop was supported by the German Science Foundation (DFG). P.C. was supported by NSF grant DEB-9981926. This is publication no. 414 of the Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Chesson
    • 1
  • Renate L. E. Gebauer
    • 2
  • Susan Schwinning
    • 3
  • Nancy Huntly
    • 4
  • Kerstin Wiegand
    • 5
  • Morgan S. K. Ernest
    • 6
  • Anna Sher
    • 7
  • Ariel Novoplansky
    • 8
  • Jake F. Weltzin
    • 9
  1. 1.Section of Evolution and EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyKeene State CollegeKeeneUSA
  3. 3.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesIdaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA
  5. 5.Institute of EcologyUniversity of JenaJenaGermany
  6. 6.Department of BiologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  7. 7.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of DenverDenverUSA
  8. 8.Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology, Blaustein Institute for Desert ResearchBen-Gurion University of the NegevMidreshet Ben-GurionIsrael
  9. 9.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TenneseeKnoxvilleUSA

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