Winter annual plants play an important role in arid and semiarid ecosystems because of their rapid response to resource pulses, which drive primary production that provides resources for herbivores and pollinators. Understanding the factors that control annual plant growth is key to predicting how arid and semiarid ecosystems will respond to changes in climate and resource availability from anthropogenic activities. We used a long-term nutrient enrichment experiment that spanned precipitation and urbanization gradients in central Arizona, USA, to examine the effects of climate, surface soil properties, soil nutrient availability and shrub cover on winter annual plant growth. At a landscape scale, aboveground net primary production (ANPP) of winter annual plants had a positive, nonlinear relationship to the amount of precipitation received from October through March of the current growing season. We found evidence for sequential resource limitation of ANPP initially from water then nitrogen and phosphorus. The resource limitation cascade was modified by surface soil properties and location relative to shrubs (under or between shrubs), highlighting the effect of small-scale factors on large-scale processes. Specifically, gravel cover had a negative effect on ANPP, and the effect of shrub cover on ANPP depended on nitrogen and current season rainfall. Our study emphasizes how small-scale factors, such as gravel cover, nutrient availability and presence of shrubs, can interact with large-scale drivers, such as seasonal precipitation, to affect interannual variation in winter annual plant production in the northern Sonoran Desert.
Sonoran Desert landscape showing production of winter annuals 363 x 241mm (300 x 300 DPI)
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Data for this study are available through the Environmental Data Initiative (Grimm and others 2022).
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Special thanks to Jennifer Learned, Quincy Stewart and Evan Batzer for assistance with map making, data collection, statistical analyses and thoughtful input on the project. We appreciate the many helpful comments provided by two anonymous reviewers on a previous version of the manuscript. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers DEB-1637590 and DEB-1832016, Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research Program (CAP LTER). SLC was also supported by NSF award DEB-1856383.
Author Contributions: NBG and SJH designed the experiment. Data were collected by the authors and the CAP LTER Field Crew. HH, JAS and TJO analyzed the data. JAS, HH, SJH and SLC led the writing of the manuscript. All authors edited drafts of the manuscript and gave final approval for publication.
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Shaw, J.A., Collins, S.L., Ohlert, T.J. et al. Seasonal Rainfall, Shrub Cover and Soil Properties Drive Production of Winter Annuals in the Northern Sonoran Desert. Ecosystems 26, 1556–1572 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-023-00850-4