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From desert to Mediterranean rangelands: will increasing drought and inter-annual rainfall variability affect herbaceous annual primary productivity?

Abstract

Climate change is predicted to alter the rainfall regime in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin: total annual rainfall will decrease, while seasonal and inter-annual variation in rainfall will increase. Such changes in the rainfall regime could potentially lead to large-scale changes in aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) in the region. We conducted a data-driven evaluation of herbaceous ANPP along an entire regional rainfall gradient, from desert (90 mm MAR [Mean Annual Rainfall]) to Mesic-Mediterranean (780 mm MAR) ecosystems, using the largest database ever collated for herbaceous ANPP in Israel, with the aim of predicting consequences of climate change for rangeland productivity. This research revealed that herbaceous ANPP increases with increasing rainfall along the gradient, but strong dependence on rainfall was only apparent within dry sites. Rain Use Efficiency peaks at mid-gradient in Mediterranean sites without woody vegetation (560 and 610 mm MAR). Inter-annual coefficients of variation in rainfall and herbaceous ANPP decrease along the rainfall gradient up to ca. 500 mm MAR. Climate change is more likely to affect herbaceous ANPP of rangelands in the arid end of the rainfall gradient, requiring adaptation of rangeland management, while ANPP of rangelands in more mesic ecosystems is less responsive to variation in rainfall. We conclude that herbaceous ANPP in most Mediterranean rangelands is less vulnerable to climate change than generally predicted.

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Acknowledgments

To Irit Konsens (Sede Boqer, Lahav, Matta, Yechiam), Hagit Baram (Lehavim, Ofer), Itzhak Bezalel (Ofer), Eli Zaady, Daniel Barkai and Tanya Gendler (Shaked Park) and Liat Hadar and Mario Gutman (Ramat Hanadiv) for biomass data, and to Amir Arnon, Noam Ben Ari, Shilo Navon, Ezra Ben Moshe and Rafi Yonatan for assistance in the field and laboratory. To Mark Perel, Moty Peres, Alona Arie and David Bonfil for climatic data. To Hillary Voet for statistical advice and analysis. To Avner Furshpan and Noam Halfon from the Israeli Meteorological Service for help with preparing Fig. 1. To the GLOWA Jordan River project for supporting research at Sede Boqer, Lahav, Matta and Yechiam. This research is funded by the Fund of the Chief Scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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Correspondence to Carly Golodets.

Electronic supplementary material

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Online Resource 1

Physical and biotic characteristics of the study sites along the rainfall gradient, including long-term rainfall and temperature averages, as well as past and present grazing regimes. Temperature refers to annual means (mean minimum, mean, and mean maximum). Rainfall coefficient of variation (CV) is presented as percent. (PDF 34 kb)

Online Resource 2

Production to Rain Variability Ratio (PRVR) for ten sites along the rainfall gradient in Israel. Sites are ordered by PRVR. (PDF 14 kb)

Online Resource 3

Mean Annual Rainfall (MAR) and available soil phosphorus content (mean ± se) for six mesic sites in Israel representing 540–780 mm. Sites are ordered by geographical position from south to north. Data were not analyzed statistically due to large discrepancies in numbers of replicate soil samples at different sites, and differences in reliability of data. (PDF 19 kb)

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Golodets, C., Sternberg, M., Kigel, J. et al. From desert to Mediterranean rangelands: will increasing drought and inter-annual rainfall variability affect herbaceous annual primary productivity?. Climatic Change 119, 785–798 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0758-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0758-8

Keywords

  • Soil Seed Bank
  • Herbaceous Vegetation
  • Mesic Site
  • Rainfall Gradient
  • Perennial Herbaceous Species