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Keywords:

  • eddy covariance;
  • landscape position;
  • mesquite (Prosopis velutina);
  • photosynthesis;
  • plant–climate interactions;
  • semi-arid;
  • temperature optima;
  • vegetation change;
  • woody plant encroachment

Summary

  1. Many regions of the globe are experiencing a simultaneous change in the dominant plant functional type and regional climatology. We explored how atmospheric temperature and precipitation control leaf- and ecosystem-scale carbon fluxes within a pair of semi-arid shrublands, one upland and one riparian, that have undergone woody plant expansion.
  2. Through a combination of leaf-level measurements on individual bunchgrasses and mesquites shrubs and ecosystem-scale monitoring using eddy covariance techniques, we sought to quantify rates of net carbon dioxide (CO2) flux, CO2 flux temperature sensitivity and the responsiveness of these parameters to seasonal rains and periods of soil dry-down.
  3. We found significant differences in physiological acclimation between the two plant functional types, in that the shrubs consistently conducted photosynthesis across a broader temperature range than co-occurring grasses during dry periods, yet maximum photosynthetic rates in grasses were twice that of mesquites during the wetter monsoon season. Landscape position modulated these temperature sensitivities, as the range of functional temperatures and maximum rates of photosynthesis were two to three times greater within the riparian shrubland in dry times.
  4. Also, it was unexpected that ecosystem-scale CO2 uptake within both shrublands would become most temperature sensitive within the monsoon, when mesquites and grasses had their broadest range of function. This is probably explained by the changing contributions of component photosynthetic fluxes, in that the more temperature sensitive grasses, which had higher maximal rates of photosynthesis, became a larger component of the ecosystem flux.
  5. Synthesis: Given projections of more variable precipitation and increased temperatures, it is important to understand differences in physiological activity between growth forms, as they are likely to drive patterns of ecosystem-scale CO2 flux. As access to stable subsurface water declines with decreased precipitation, these differential patterns of temperature sensitivity among growth forms, which are dependent on connectivity to groundwater, will only become more important in determining ecosystem carbon source/sink status.