Drivers of variation in aboveground net primary productivity and plant community composition differ across a broad precipitation gradient

Kimberly J La Pierre, Dana M Blumenthal, Cynthia S Brown, Julia A Klein, Melinda D Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations

Abstract

Aboveground net primary production (ANPP) is a key integrator of C uptake and energy flow in many terrestrial ecosystems. As such, ecologists have long sought to understand the factors driving variation in this important ecosystem process. Although total annual precipitation has been shown to be a strong predictor of ANPP in grasslands across broad spatial scales, it is often a poor predictor at local scales. Here we examine the amount of variation in ANPP that can be explained by total annual precipitation versus precipitation during specific periods of the year (precipitation periods) and nutrient availability at three sites representing the major grassland types (shortgrass steppe, mixed-grass prairie, and tallgrass prairie) spanning the broad precipitation gradient of the U.S. Central Great Plains. Using observational data, we found that precipitation periods and nutrient availability were much stronger predictors of site-level ANPP than total annual precipitation. However, the specific nutrients and precipitation periods that best predicted ANPP differed among the three sites. These effects were mirrored experimentally at the shortgrass and tallgrass sites, with precipitation and nutrient availability co-limiting ANPP, but not at the mixed-grass site, where nutrient availability determined ANPP exclusive of precipitation effects. Dominant grasses drove the ANPP response to increased nutrient availability at all three sites. However, the relative responses of rare grasses and forbs were greater than those of the dominant grasses to experimental nutrient additions, thus potentially driving species turnover with chronic nutrient additions. This improved understanding of the factors driving variation in ANPP within ecosystems spanning the broad precipitation gradient of the Great Plains will aid predictions of alterations in ANPP under future global change scenarios.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-533
Number of pages13
JournalEcosystems
Volume19
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 7 2016

Keywords

  • Dominant species
  • Great Plains
  • Nutrients
  • Nutrient Network (NutNet)
  • Rare species
  • Precipitation periods

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