, Volume 21, Issue 8, pp 1533–1544 | Cite as

Warming and Elevated CO2 Interact to Alter Seasonality and Reduce Variability of Soil Water in a Semiarid Grassland

  • Dana M. BlumenthalEmail author
  • Kevin E. Mueller
  • Julie A. Kray
  • Daniel R. LeCain
  • Elise Pendall
  • Sara Duke
  • T. Jane Zelikova
  • Feike A. Dijkstra
  • David G. Williams
  • Jack A. Morgan


Global changes that alter soil water availability may have profound effects on semiarid ecosystems. Although both elevated CO2 (eCO2) and warming can alter water availability, often in opposite ways, few studies have measured their combined influence on the amount, timing, and temporal variability of soil water. Here, we ask how free air CO2 enrichment (to 600 ppmv) and infrared warming (+ 1.5 °C day, + 3 °C night) effects on soil water vary within years and across wet-dry periods in North American mixed-grass prairie. We found that eCO2 and warming interacted to influence soil water and that those interactions varied by season. In the spring, negative effects of warming on soil water largely offset positive effects of eCO2. As the growing season progressed, however, warming reduced soil water primarily (summer) or only (autumn) in plots treated with eCO2. These interactions constrained the combined effect of eCO2 and warming on soil water, which ranged from neutral in spring to positive in autumn. Within seasons, eCO2 increased soil water under drier conditions, and warming decreased soil water under wetter conditions. By increasing soil water under dry conditions, eCO2 also reduced temporal variability in soil water. These temporal patterns explain previously observed plant responses, including reduced leaf area with warming in summer, and delayed senescence with eCO2 plus warming in autumn. They also suggest that eCO2 and warming may favor plant species that grow in autumn, including winter annuals and C3 graminoids, and species able to remain active under the dry conditions moderated by eCO2.


elevated carbon dioxide warming climate change free air CO2 enrichment, evapotranspiration soil moisture seasonality phenology mixed-grass prairie northern Great Plains 



We thank David Smith and Erik Hardy for help constructing the experiment, Terry Booth and Larry Griffith for digital imagery used to measure greenness, and David Augustine, Laura Perry, and David Hoover for helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the USDA-ARS Pasture, Forage and Rangeland Systems Program, the USDA-CSREES Soil Processes Program (Grant No. 2008-35107-18655), the US DOE Office of Science (Biological and Environmental Research) through the Western Regional Center of the National Institute for Climatic Change Research at Northern Arizona University, and the US NSF (DEB no. 1021559).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature (outside the USA) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dana M. Blumenthal
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kevin E. Mueller
    • 1
    • 2
  • Julie A. Kray
    • 1
  • Daniel R. LeCain
    • 1
  • Elise Pendall
    • 3
  • Sara Duke
    • 4
  • T. Jane Zelikova
    • 5
  • Feike A. Dijkstra
    • 6
  • David G. Williams
    • 5
  • Jack A. Morgan
    • 1
  1. 1.USDA-ARS Rangeland Resources and Systems Research UnitFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Biological, Geological and Environmental SciencesCleveland State UniversityClevelandUSA
  3. 3.Hawkesbury Institute for the EnvironmentWestern Sydney UniversityPenrithAustralia
  4. 4.USDA-ARSCollege StationUSA
  5. 5.Department of Botany & Program in EcologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  6. 6.Centre for Carbon, Water and Food, School of Life and Environmental SciencesThe University of SydneyCamdenAustralia

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