Canyonlands Research Bibliography


Summer and Winter Drought in a Cold Desert Ecosystem (Colorado Plateau) Part II: Effects on Plant Carbon Assimilation and Growth

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Journal of Arid Environments





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We investigated the effects of winter and summer drought on a shrub/grass community of the Colorado Plateau in western North America, a winter-cold, summer-hot desert that receives both winter and summer precipitation. Summer, winter and yearlong drought treatments were imposed for 2 consecutive years using rainout shelters. We chose three perennial species for this Study, representing different rooting patterns and responsiveness to precipitation pulses: Oryzopsis hymenoides, a perennial bunch grass with shallow roots,Gutierrezia sarothrae, a subshrub with dimorphic roots; and Ceratoides lanata, a predominantly deep-rooted woody shrub. Growth for all three species was far more sensitive to winter than to summer drought. The primary reason was that plants did not grow in summer and also did not appear to use summer-assimilated carbon to support growth in the following spring. We hypothesize that the relative scarcity and uncertainty of summer rain on the Colorado Plateau prevents most species from evolving adaptations that would improve their use of summer rain. Together with the results of the companion paper, which focused on plant water relations, we conclude that variation in fall to spring precipitation would have strong effects on primary productivity, and could cause reversible fluctuations in community composition, while increased variation in Summer precipitation, through causing high rates of mortality among shallow-rooted species in dry years, has the potential to cause lasting and perhaps irreversible community change, especially if coinciding with the invasion of western landscapes by cheatgrass, tumble weed and other grazing tolerant exotics. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Originally published by Elsevier.