Plant Ecology

, Volume 215, Issue 7, pp 721–731 | Cite as

Contrasting sensitivities of two dominant C4 grasses to heat waves and drought

  • D. L. HooverEmail author
  • A. K. Knapp
  • M. D. Smith


Heat waves and droughts are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity with climate change. However, we lack a mechanistic understanding of the independent and interactive effects of severe heat and water stress for most ecosystems. In a mesic tallgrass prairie ecosystem, we used a factorial experimental approach to assess ecophysiological and productivity responses of two dominant C4 grasses, Andropogon gerardii and Sorghastrum nutans, to a season-long drought and a mid-summer heat wave at four intensities. We hypothesized that drought would have greater impacts than heat waves, that combined effects would be greater than either factor alone, and that the dominant grasses would differ in their responses to heat and water heat stress. We detected significant reductions in photosynthesis, leaf water potential, and productivity with drought but few direct responses to the heat waves. Surprisingly, there was no additive effect of heat and water stress on any plant response. However, S. nutans was more sensitive than A. gerardii to drought. In this grassland, water stress will likely dominate photosynthetic and productivity responses caused by discrete drought and heat wave events, rather than direct or additive effects of heat stress, with differential sensitivity in these grasses altering future ecosystem structure and function.


Climate change Climate extremes Photosynthesis Productivity Mesic grassland 



We would like to thank P. O’Neal, J. Taylor, K. Wilcox, K. Duffy, A. Bennett, R. Song, M. Avolio, S. Koerner, K. La Pierre, T. Dugger, C. Blair, J. Blair, J. Briggs, J. Nippert, J. Larkins, and T. Van Slyke as well as the Konza Prairie LTER, Kansas State University Biology Department and the Department of Energy (DE-PS02-07ER0-02-ER63892).

Supplementary material

11258_2014_345_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 16 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Degree Program in Ecology and Department of BiologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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