, Volume 174, Issue 4, pp 1323–1334 | Cite as

Mechanisms of grass response in grasslands and shrublands during dry or wet periods

  • Debra P. C. PetersEmail author
  • Jin Yao
  • Dawn Browning
  • Albert Rango
Community ecology - Original research


Multi-year climatic periods are expected to increase with global change, yet long-term data are often insufficient to document factors leading to ecological responses. We used a suite of long-term datasets (1993–2010) to examine the processes underlying different relationships between aboveground net primary production (ANPP) and precipitation in wet and dry rainfall periods in shrublands and grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert. We hypothesized that trends in ANPP can be explained by different processes associated with their dominant grasses [Bouteloua eriopoda (grasslands); Sporobolus flexuosus (shrublands)] and with ecosystem properties that influence soil water dynamics with feedbacks to ANPP. We compared datasets on recruitment and growth for 7 years with no trend in precipitation followed by a 4-year drought and 5 consecutive wet years. We integrated these data in a simulation model to examine the importance of positive feedbacks. In grasslands, ANPP was linearly related to precipitation regardless of rainfall period, primarily as a result of stolon recruitment by B. eriopoda. A lag in responses suggests the importance of legacies associated with stolon density. In shrublands, ANPP was only related to rainfall in the wet period when it increased nonlinearly as the number of wet years increased. Seed availability increased in the first wet year, and seedling establishment occurred 2–4 years later. Increases in biomass, litter and simulated transpiration beginning in the third year corresponded with increases in ANPP. Understanding the processes underlying ecosystem dynamics in multi-year dry or wet periods is expected to improve predictions under directional increases or decreases in rainfall.


Bouteloua eriopoda Demographic processes Grasslands Plant–soil water feedbacks Sporobolus flexuosus 



We thank Laura Huenneke for designing the long-term studies on plant ANPP and phenology, and John Anderson and the Jornada Basin LTER technicians for collecting the data through time. Kris Havstad provided constructive comments on the manuscript. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation to New Mexico State University as part of the Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research Program (DEB-1235828) and by related awards to New Mexico State University (DEB-0917668, EF-1065699). The Jornada Basin site consists of the Jornada Experimental Range administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service, and the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center administered by New Mexico State University. The NPP and Phenology studies are funded by the Jornada LTER Program, and the JORNEX Project is jointly funded by the LTER and USDA–ARS. The experiments comply with the current laws of the USA in which the experiments were performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Debra P. C. Peters
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jin Yao
    • 1
  • Dawn Browning
    • 1
    • 2
  • Albert Rango
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research ProgramNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  2. 2.United States Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service, Jornada Experimental RangeLas CrucesUSA

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