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Oecologia

, Volume 162, Issue 1, pp 185–197 | Cite as

Precipitation magnitude and timing differentially affect species richness and plant density in the sotol grassland of the Chihuahuan Desert

  • Traesha R. Robertson
  • John C. Zak
  • David T. Tissue
Community Ecology - Original Paper

Abstract

Arid and semi-arid environments are dynamic ecosystems with highly variable precipitation, resulting in diverse plant communities. Changes in the timing and magnitude of precipitation due to global climate change may further alter plant community composition in desert regions. In this study, we assessed changes in species richness and plant density at the community, functional group, and species level in response to variation in the magnitude of natural seasonal precipitation and 25% increases in seasonal precipitation [e.g., supplemental watering in summer, winter, or summer and winter (SW)] over a 5-year period in a sotol grassland in the Chihuahuan Desert. Community species richness was higher with increasing winter precipitation while community plant density increased with greater amounts of winter and summer precipitation, suggesting winter precipitation was important for species recruitment and summer precipitation promoted growth of existing species. Herb and grass density increased with increasing winter and summer precipitation, but only grass density showed a significant response to supplemental watering treatments (SW treatment plots had higher grass density). Shrubs and succulents did not exhibit changes in richness or density in response to natural or supplemental precipitation. In this 5-year study, changes in community species richness and density were driven by responses of herb and grass species that favored more frequent small precipitation events, shorter inter-pulse duration, and higher soil moisture. However, due to the long life spans of the shrub and succulent species within this community, 5 years may be insufficient to accurately evaluate their response to variable timing and magnitude of precipitation in this mid-elevation grassland.

Keywords

Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands Plant density Plant species richness Seasonal precipitation 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the following funding agencies: National Park Service, grant (1434-01HQRU1570) to D. T. T. and J. C. Z.; USGS, grant to J. C. Z.; Department of Energy, NICCR grant to D. T. T.; ARCS, grant to T. R. R. Assistance from Dr Joe Sirotnak, John Forsythe, the BBNP fire crew, and the rest of the staff at BBNP was greatly appreciated. We would also like to thank the following people for assistance in the field: Erin Hurt, Natasja van Gestel, Elizabeth Gordon, Becky Roper, Kari Malen, April Nesbit, Colin Bell, Heath Grizzle, Dr Lisa Patrick, and Dr Michael Loik.

Supplementary material

442_2009_1449_MOESM1_ESM.doc (38 kb)
Supplementary material (DOC 38 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Traesha R. Robertson
    • 1
  • John C. Zak
    • 1
  • David T. Tissue
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Plants and the EnvironmentUniversity of Western SydneyRichmondAustralia

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