Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Grass seed production in the central Monte desert during successive wet and dry years

  • 185 Accesses

  • 16 Citations


In desert regions, water availability triggers primary production, which determines seed production, the composition and size of soil seed reserves and the abundance and behaviour of seed-eating animals. In the central Monte desert, large precipitation events (≥10 mm) account for a high proportion of growing season’s rainfall. Our first objective here was to assess whether and how timing and amount of seed production of C3 and C4 perennial grasses are linked to spring and summer precipitation pulses and to estimate the seasonal and year-to-year variability in seed production. Our second aim was to calculate grass seed production and compare it with seed requirements by granivorous animals to infer whether the animals can exert top-down effects on plant populations. Seed production of C3 and C4 species was triggered by significant spring and summer rainfall, respectively. Such distinct response may be associated with the effect of precipitation during flower development and seed set in both functional groups. In all species, seed production varied among years. Rainfall pulses in the summer triggered and positively affected the magnitude of seed production in most C4 grasses. However, all perennial grasses were able to produce high amount of seeds even during a year subjected to extreme drought, suggesting that perenniality would allow these species to make large reproductive investment despite harsh environmental conditions. The comparative assessment of seed production and consumer demands suggests that it is unlikely that granivory exerts a top−down control on grasses in the Monte desert.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Aguiar MR, Sala OE (1994) Competition, facilitation, seed distribution and the origin of patches in a Patagonian steppe. Oikos 70:26–34

  2. Beatley JC (1974) Phenological events and their environmental triggers in Mojave-desert ecosystems. Ecology 55:856–863

  3. Bowers JE (1996) Seedling emergence on Sonoran Desert dunes. J Arid Environ 33:63–72

  4. Chambers JC, MacMahon JA (1994) A day in the life of a seed: movements and fates of seeds and their implications for natural and managed systems. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 25:263–292

  5. Cueto VR, Marone L, Lopez de Casenave J (2001) Seed preferences by birds: effects of the design of feeding-preference experiments. J Avian Biol 32:275–278

  6. Cueto VR, Marone L, Lopez de Casenave J (2006) Seed preferences in sparrows species of the Monte desert: implications for seed–granivore interactions. Auk 123:358–367

  7. Ernest SKM, Brown JH, Parmenter RR (2000) Rodents, plants, and precipitation: spatial and temporal dynamics of consumers and resources. Oikos 88:470–482

  8. Fernandez RJ (2007) On the frequent lack of response of plants to rainfall events in arid areas. J Arid Environ 68:688–691

  9. Gardener MR, Whalley RDB, Sindel BM (2003) Ecology of Nassella neesiana, Chilean needle grass, in pastures on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. II. Seedbank dynamics, seed germination, and seedling recruitment. Aust J Agric Res 54:621–626

  10. Ghazanfar SA (1997) The phenology of desert plants: a 3-year study in a gravel desert wadi in northern Oman. J Arid Environ 35:407–417

  11. Golluscio RA, Sala OE, Lauenroth WK (1998) Differential use of large summer rainfall events by shrubs and grasses: a manipulative experiment in the Patagonian steppe. Oecologia 115:17–25

  12. Greco SA, Cavagnaro JB (2002) Effects of drought in biomass production and allocation in three varieties of Trichloris crinita P. (Poaceae) a forage grass from the arid Monte region of Argentina. Plant Ecol 164:125–135

  13. Huenneke LF, Anderson JP, Remmenga M, Schlesinger WH (2002) Desertification alters patterns of aboveground net primary production in Chihuahuan ecosystems. Glob Change Biol 8:247–264

  14. Ims RA (1990) On the adaptive value of reproductive synchrony as a predator-swamping strategy. Am Nat 136:485–498

  15. Jackson RB, Canadell J, Ehleringer JR, Mooney HA, Sala OE, Schulze ED (1996) A global analysis of root distributions for terrestrial biomes. Oecologia 108:389–411

  16. Kelly D (1994) The evolutionary ecology of mast seeding. Trends Ecol Evol 9:465–470

  17. Kemp PR (1989) Seed banks and vegetation processes in deserts. In: Leck MA, Parker VT, Simpson RL (eds) Ecology of soil seed banks. Academic Press, New York, pp 257–281

  18. Lopez de Casenave J (2001) Estructura gremial y organización de un ensamble de aves del desierto del Monte. PhD Thesis, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

  19. Marone L (1991) Habitat features affecting bird species distribution in the Monte desert, Argentina. Ecol Austral 1:77–86

  20. Marone L, Rossi BE, Horno ME (1998a) Timing and spatial patterning of seed dispersal and redistribution in a South America warm desert. Plant Ecol 137:143–150

  21. Marone L, Rossi BE, Lopez de Casenave J (1998b) Granivore impact on soil-seed reserves in the Monte desert, Argentina. Funct Ecol 12:640–645

  22. Marone L, Lopez de Casenave J, Cueto VR (2000) Granivory in southern South American deserts: conceptual issues and current evidence. Bioscience 50:123–132

  23. Marone L, Cueto VR, Milesi FA, Lopez de Casenave J (2004) Soil seed bank composition over desert microhabitats: patterns and plausible mechanisms. Can J Bot 82:1809–1816

  24. Marone L, Lopez de Casenave J, Milesi FA, Cueto VR (2008) Can seed-eating birds exert top-down effects on the vegetation of the Monte desert? Oikos 117:611–619

  25. McNaughton SJ (1991) Dryland herbaceous perennials. In: Mooney HA, Winner WE, Pell E (eds) Response of plants to multiple stresses. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 307–328

  26. Milesi FA, Lopez de Casenave J, Cueto VR (2008) Selection of foraging sites by desert granivorous birds: vegetation structure, seed availability, species-specific foraging tactics, and spatial scale. Auk 125:473–484

  27. Mull JF, MacMahon JA (1996) Factors determining spatial variability of seed densities in a shrub-steppe ecosystem: the role of harvester ants. J Arid Environ 32:181–192

  28. Nagy KA (1987) Field metabolic rate and food requirement scaling in mammals and birds. Ecol Monogr 57:111–128

  29. Noy-Meir I (1973) Desert ecosystems: environment and producers. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 4:25–51

  30. Ode DJ, Tieszen LL, Lerman JC (1980) The seasonal contribution of C3 and C4 plant species to primary production in a mixed prairie. Ecology 61:1304–1311

  31. Pirk GI (2007) Granivoría por hormigas del género Pogonomyrmex en el Monte central: consumo de semillas e impacto sobre el banco de suelo. PhD Thesis, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

  32. Pirk GI, Lopez de Casenave L (2006) Diet and seed removal rates by the harvester ants Pogonomyrmex rastratus and Pogonomyrmex pronotalis in the central Monte desert, Argentina. Insect Soc 53:119–125

  33. Pirk GI, Lopez de Casenave L, Pol R (2004) Asociación de las hormigas granívoras Pogonomyrmex pronotalis, P. rastratus y P. inermis con caminos en el Monte central. Ecol Austral 14:65–76

  34. Pirk GI, Lopez de Casenave J, Pol RG, Milesi FA, Marone L (2009) Influence of temporal fluctuations in seed abundance on the diet of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex spp.) in the central Monte desert, Argentina. Austral Ecol. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2009.01999

  35. Pol RG (2008) Seed harvesting by ants of the genus Pogonomyrmex in the central Monte desert: functional responses to variation in seed availability. PhD Thesis, Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

  36. Pol RG, Lopez de Casenave J (2004) Activity patterns of harvester ants Pogonomyrmex pronotalis and Pogonomyrmex rastratus in the Central Monte Desert, Argentina. J Insect Behav 17:647–661

  37. Reynolds JF, Kemp PR, Tenhunen DJ (2000) Effects of long-term rainfall variability on evapotranspiration and soil water distribution in the Chihuahuan desert: a modeling analysis. Plant Ecol 159:145–159

  38. Sala OE, Lauenroth WK (1982) Small rainfall events: an ecological role in semiarid regions. Oecologia 53:301–304

  39. Schenk HJ, Jackson RB (2002) Rooting depths, lateral root spreads and below-ground/above-ground allometries of plants in water-limited ecosystems. J Ecol 90:480–494

  40. Schwinning S, Sala O (2004) Hierarchy of responses to resource pulses in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Oecologia 141:211–220

  41. Schwinning S, Davis K, Richardson L, Ehleringer JR (2002) Deuterium enriched irrigation indicates different forms of rain use in shrub/grass species of the Colorado Plateau. Oecologia 130:345–355

  42. Schwinning S, Starr BI, Ehleringer JR (2003) Dominant cold desert plants do not partition warm season precipitation by event size. Oecologia 136:252–260

  43. Seligman N, Cavagnaro JB, Horno ME (1992) Simulation of defoliation effects on primary production of a warm season, semiarid perennial-species grassland. Ecol Model 60:45–61

  44. Tieszen LL, Reed BC, Bliss NB, Wylie BK, DeJong DD (1997) NDVI, C3 and C4 production, and distributions in Great Plains grassland land cover classes. Ecol Appl 7:59–78

  45. Turner FB, Randall DC (1987) The phenology of dessert shrubs in southern Nevada. J Arid Environ 13:119–128

  46. Yahdjian L, Sala OE (2006) Vegetation structure constrains primary production response to increased water availability in the Patagonian steppe of Argentina. Ecology 87:952–962

  47. Zar JH (1996) Biostatistical analysis, 3rd edn. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey

Download references


Carmen Sartor, Gualberto Zalazar, José Lemes, Federico di Pasquo and Carolina González kindly helped us with field as well as laboratory work. We thank Bruno Cavagnaro for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We acknowledge institutional and financial support from ANPCyT (contracts PICT 2196 and Red 284/3) and CONICET (contract PIP 6328), both from Argentina. LM thanks JS Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Contribution number 67 of the Desert Community Ecology Research Team (Ecodes) of IADIZA Institute and FCEyN-University of Buenos Aires.

Author information

Correspondence to Rodrigo G. Pol.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Pol, R.G., Pirk, G.I. & Marone, L. Grass seed production in the central Monte desert during successive wet and dry years. Plant Ecol 208, 65–75 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-009-9688-y

Download citation


  • Drought
  • Granivory
  • Masting
  • Perennial grasses
  • Rainfall pulses
  • Seed production