International Journal of Biometeorology

, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 1033–1043 | Cite as

Modifying rainfall patterns in a Mediterranean shrubland: system design, plant responses, and experimental burning

  • Antonio Parra
  • David A. Ramírez
  • Víctor Resco
  • Ángel Velasco
  • José M. Moreno
Original Paper


Global warming is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts in the Mediterranean region, as well as the occurrence of large fires. Understanding the interactions between drought, fire and plant responses is therefore important. In this study, we present an experiment in which rainfall patterns were modified to simulate various levels of drought in a Mediterranean shrubland of central Spain dominated by Cistus ladanifer, Erica arborea and Phillyrea angustifolia. A system composed of automatic rainout shelters with an irrigation facility was used. It was designed to be applied in vegetation 2 m tall, treat relatively large areas (36 m2), and be quickly dismantled to perform experimental burning and reassembled back again. Twenty plots were subjected to four rainfall treatments from early spring: natural rainfall, long-term average rainfall (2 months drought), moderate drought (25% reduction from long-term rainfall, 5 months drought) and severe drought (45% reduction, 7 months drought). The plots were burned in late summer, without interfering with rainfall manipulations. Results indicated that rainfall manipulations caused differences in soil moisture among treatments, leading to reduced water availability and growth of C. ladanifer and E. arborea in the drought treatments. However, P. angustifolia was not affected by the manipulations. Rainout shelters had a negligible impact on plot microenvironment. Experimental burns were of high fire intensity, without differences among treatments. Our system provides a tool to study the combined effects of drought and fire on vegetation, which is important to assess the threats posed by climate change in Mediterranean environments.


Climate change Drought Fire Plant growth Rainout shelter Water availability 



Funding was provided by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (SECCIA, CGL2006-06914), the 7th FP of the European Commission (FUME, GA 243888) and Caja de Guadalajara. We thank the “Quintos de Mora” staff, in particular J.M. Sebastián and C. Rodríguez for facilitating the installation, maintenance and operation of our experiment. We also thank S. Grootemaat, A. Vázquez, A. Pardo and L. Díaz for their field assistance and colleagues from UCLM Ecology Lab and NitroEurope team who assisted us during the burning. AP received a FPI grant funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and VR was partly funded by the European Social Fund.

Supplementary material

484_2011_517_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (56 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 1 Schematic representation of the rainout shelter and irrigation system. A folded plastic shelter, B gutter, C motor for unfolding the shelter, D water sprayer at the central location, E pipeline system, F water counter, G partially buried iron sheet to divert surface water flow, H iron piece cemented into the soil used to fit the structure, I impermeable asphalt plates to exclude rainfall around the plot (these were established following the experimental fire)


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Copyright information

© ISB 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antonio Parra
    • 1
  • David A. Ramírez
    • 1
    • 2
  • Víctor Resco
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ángel Velasco
    • 1
  • José M. Moreno
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Ciencias AmbientalesUniversidad de Castilla-La ManchaToledoSpain
  2. 2.Programa de Doctorado en Recursos HídricosUniversidad Nacional Agraria La MolinaLimaPerú
  3. 3.Hawkesbury Institute for the EnvironmentUniversity of Western SydneyRichmondAustralia

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