, Volume 177, Issue 4, pp 935–947 | Cite as

Global environmental change and the nature of aboveground net primary productivity responses: insights from long-term experiments

  • Melinda D. SmithEmail author
  • Kimberly J. La Pierre
  • Scott L. Collins
  • Alan K. Knapp
  • Katherine L. Gross
  • John E. Barrett
  • Serita D. Frey
  • Laura Gough
  • Robert J. Miller
  • James T. Morris
  • Lindsey E. Rustad
  • John Yarie
Special Topic: Coordinated approaches to global change research


Many global change drivers chronically alter resource availability in terrestrial ecosystems. Such resource alterations are known to affect aboveground net primary production (ANPP) in the short term; however, it is unknown if patterns of response change through time. We examined the magnitude, direction, and pattern of ANPP responses to a wide range of global change drivers by compiling 73 datasets from long-term (>5 years) experiments that varied by ecosystem type, length of manipulation, and the type of manipulation. Chronic resource alterations resulted in a significant change in ANPP irrespective of ecosystem type, the length of the experiment, and the resource manipulated. However, the pattern of ecosystem response over time varied with ecosystem type and manipulation length. Continuous directional responses were the most common pattern observed in herbaceous-dominated ecosystems. Continuous directional responses also were frequently observed in longer-term experiments (>11 years) and were, in some cases, accompanied by large shifts in community composition. In contrast, stepped responses were common in forests and other ecosystems (salt marshes and dry valleys) and with nutrient manipulations. Our results suggest that the response of ANPP to chronic resource manipulations can be quite variable; however, responses persist once they occur, as few transient responses were observed. Shifts in plant community composition over time could be important determinants of patterns of terrestrial ecosystem sensitivity, but comparative, long-term studies are required to understand how and why ecosystems differ in their sensitivity to chronic resource alterations.


Aboveground productivity Hierarchical response framework (HRF) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network Nutrient addition Precipitation manipulation 



This synthesis effort was a product of an LTER Working Group entitled “Long-term experiments in the LTER Network: synthesis and hypothesis testing.” We thank the participants of the working group for their contributions; S. McNulty, J. Boggs, P. Edwards, F. Wood, and R. Oren for providing data for this analysis; and the LTER Network Office for providing support. We thank four anonymous reviewers for providing comments on previous versions of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

442_2015_3230_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 24 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melinda D. Smith
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kimberly J. La Pierre
    • 2
  • Scott L. Collins
    • 3
  • Alan K. Knapp
    • 1
  • Katherine L. Gross
    • 4
  • John E. Barrett
    • 5
  • Serita D. Frey
    • 6
  • Laura Gough
    • 7
  • Robert J. Miller
    • 8
  • James T. Morris
    • 9
  • Lindsey E. Rustad
    • 10
  • John Yarie
    • 11
  1. 1.Department of Biology and Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of California BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  4. 4.W. K. Kellogg Biological Station and Department of Plant BiologyMichigan State UniversityHickory CornersUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biological SciencesVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  6. 6.Department of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  7. 7.Department of BiologyUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  8. 8.Marine Science InstituteUniversity of California Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  9. 9.Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal SciencesUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  10. 10.United States Department of Agriculture, Forest ServiceDurhamUSA
  11. 11.Department of Natural Resources ManagementUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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