Increased Soil Frost Versus Summer Drought as Drivers of Plant Biomass Responses to Reduced Precipitation: Results from a Globally Coordinated Field Experiment
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Reduced precipitation treatments often are used in field experiments to explore the effects of drought on plant productivity and species composition. However, in seasonally snow-covered regions reduced precipitation also reduces snow cover, which can increase soil frost depth, decrease minimum soil temperatures and increase soil freeze–thaw cycles. Therefore, in addition to the effects of reduced precipitation on plants via drought, freezing damage to overwintering plant tissues at or below the soil surface could further affect plant productivity and relative species abundances during the growing season. We examined the effects of both reduced rainfall (via rain-out shelters) and reduced snow cover (via snow removal) at 13 sites globally (primarily grasslands) within the framework of the International Drought Experiment, a coordinated distributed experiment. Plant cover was estimated at the species level, and aboveground biomass was quantified at the functional group level. Among sites, we observed a negative correlation between the snow removal effect on minimum soil temperature and plant biomass production the next growing season. Three sites exhibited significant rain-out shelter effects on plant productivity, but there was no correlation among sites between the rain-out shelter effect on minimum soil moisture and plant biomass. There was no interaction between snow removal and rain-out shelters for plant biomass, although these two factors only exhibited significant effects simultaneously for a single site. Overall, our results reveal that reduced snowfall, when it decreases minimum soil temperatures, can be an important component of the total effect of reduced precipitation on plant productivity.
Keywordsclimate drought International Drought Experiment frost productivity rain snow cover winter
The authors thank Angelika Kübert for assistance with data collection.
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