, Volume 149, Issue 3, pp 456–464 | Cite as

Convergence and contingency in production–precipitation relationships in North American and South African C4 grasslands

  • Alan K. KnappEmail author
  • Catherine E. Burns
  • Richard W. S. Fynn
  • Kevin P. Kirkman
  • Craig D. Morris
  • Melinda D. Smith
Ecosystem Ecology


Mesic grasslands in North America and South Africa share many structural attributes, but less is known of their functional similarities. We assessed the control of a key ecosystem process, aboveground net primary production (ANPP), by interannual variation in precipitation amount and pattern via analysis of data sets (15- and 24-year periods) from long-term research programs on each continent. Both sites were dominated by C4 grasses and had similar growing season climates; thus, we expected convergence in precipitation–ANPP relationships. Lack of convergence, however, would support an alternative hypothesis—that differences in evolutionary history and purportedly greater climatic variability in South Africa fundamentally alter the functioning of southern versus northern hemisphere grasslands. Neither mean annual precipitation nor mean ANPP differed between the South African and North American sites (838 vs. 857 mm/year, 423.5 vs. 461.4 g/m2 respectively) and growing season precipitation–ANPP relationships were similar. Despite overall convergence, there were differences between sites in how the seasonal timing of precipitation affected ANPP. In particular, interannual variability in precipitation that fell during the first half of the growing season strongly affected annual ANPP in South Africa (P < 0.01), but was not related to ANPP in North America (P = 0.098). Both sites were affected similarly by late season precipitation. Divergence in the seasonal course of available soil moisture (chronically low in the winter and early spring in the South African site vs. high in the North American site) is proposed as a key contingent factor explaining differential sensitivity in ANPP to early season precipitation in these two grasslands. These long-term data sets provided no support for greater rainfall, temperature or ANPP variability in the South African versus the North American site. However, greater sensitivity of ANPP to early season precipitation in the South African grassland suggests that future patterns of productivity may be more responsive to seasonal changes in climate compared with the North American site.


Climate Evolutionary history Net primary production Precipitation Soil moisture 



Research was supported by the US National Science Foundation, the Konza Prairie LTER Program, Kansas State and Colorado State Universities, the Department of Grassland Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the South African Agricultural Research Council. Research complies with all laws of the USA and South Africa.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan K. Knapp
    • 1
    Email author
  • Catherine E. Burns
    • 2
  • Richard W. S. Fynn
    • 3
  • Kevin P. Kirkman
    • 3
  • Craig D. Morris
    • 4
  • Melinda D. Smith
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biology and Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Grassland Science, School of Biological and Conservation SciencesUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal at PietermaritzburgPietermaritzburgSouth Africa
  4. 4.Agricultural Research Council-Range and Forage InstituteUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalPietermaritzburgSouth Africa

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