Drought and biodiversity in Grasslands

David Tilman, A. El Haddi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

231 Scopus citations


The local species richness of four different grassland fields fell an average of 37% during a 1988 drought that decreased above-ground living plant mass by an average of 47%. Despite the return to more normal plant mass and precipitation during the next two years, there was no significant recovery in species richness in the 46 permanent plots, suggesting that local species richness became recruitment limited. The drought led to the loss of annual species independent of their abundance. For perennial grasses, perennial forbs, legumes and woody species, the probability of a species being lost from a plot was significantly negatively correlated with its predrought abundance. These results demonstrate that environmentally extreme conditions can limit species richness by causing the local extinction of rare species. Because droughts of this intensity occur about every 50 years in the prairie, periodic drought may have limited prairie diversity. Moreover, if the accumulation of greenhouse gases leads to a more variable or extreme climate, it could cause increased rates of species extinctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-264
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 1992


  • Colonization
  • Diversity
  • Drought
  • Extinctions
  • Species richness


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