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Variations in Anarthrophyllum rigidum radial growth, NDVI and ecosystem productivity in the Patagonian shrubby steppes

Abstract

The lack of long-term records of productivity is a critical limitation to the study of ecosystem dynamics. Annual rings, a measure of growth in woody species, are a useful tool to document ecosystem dynamics. Time series of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) provide estimates of ecosystem productivity through satellite-derived data on the fraction of photosynthetic active radiation absorbed by vegetation. In the Patagonian steppes, we relate changes in NDVI to interannual variations in the radial growth of the shrub Anarthrophyllum rigidum. A widely distributed network of 15 ring-width chronologies of A. rigidum was used to estimate changes in NDVI across the Patagonia steppe (35°–50°S). In most sites, interannual variations in shrub growth and NDVI are regulated by winter precipitation. The water accumulated in the soil during winter is used by A. rigidum during the growing season, concurrent with the maximum NDVI values. At 10 from the 15 selected sites, variations in the radial growth of A. rigidum explained between 23 and 62% of the total variance in seasonal NDVI, suggesting that the A. rigidum growth at some sites provides good estimates of productivity in the Patagonian shrubby steppes during the growing season. However, we were unable to determine clear relationships between radial growth and NDVI at high-elevation mountainous sites or where intensive grazing by sheep masked the effect of climate variability on shrub growth. We conclude that dendrochronological methods can complement other estimates to reconstruct variations of productivity, supplementing and extending the few short records available in the Patagonian steppe.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Juan Alvarez, Eugenia Ferrero, Irene Garibotti, Lidio Lopez, Mariano Morales, Alberto Ripalta, Germán San Blas and Gualberto Zalazar for field assistance; Pierre Pitte for digitizing the maps; Natacha Chacoff for statistical assistance; Elena Solsona for their assistance with data management; and Mariano Masiokas, the Subsecretaría de Recursos Hídricos and the Servicio Meteorológico Nacional for providing the climate data. Nelida Horak helped with the English edition. The authors thank Brian Luckman and two anonymous reviewers for constructive criticisms of the original manuscript. This study was partially supported by the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica, Argentina, (PICTR2002-186), CONICET, Argentina, and the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (Grant IAI-SGP008 and CRN II # 2047 and CRN II # 2031) which is supported by the US National Science Foundation (Grant GEO-0452325).

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Correspondence to Ana M. Srur.

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Srur, A.M., Villalba, R. & Baldi, G. Variations in Anarthrophyllum rigidum radial growth, NDVI and ecosystem productivity in the Patagonian shrubby steppes. Plant Ecol 212, 1841 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-011-9955-6

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Keywords

  • Dendrochronology
  • Radial growth–NDVI relationships
  • Patagonian steppe productivity
  • Shrub rings