Species richness and susceptibility to heat and drought extremes in synthesized grassland ecosystems: compositional vs physiological effects

Authors

  • L. VAN PEER,

    1. Research Group Plant and Vegetation Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Campus Drie Eiken, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium, and
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  • I. NIJS,

    Corresponding author
    1. Research Group Plant and Vegetation Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Campus Drie Eiken, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium, and
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  • D. REHEUL,

    1. Department of Plant Production, Faculty of Agricultural and Applied Biological Sciences, University of Ghent, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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  • B. DE CAUWER

    1. Department of Plant Production, Faculty of Agricultural and Applied Biological Sciences, University of Ghent, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
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†Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: ivan.nijs@ua.ac.be

Summary

  • 1We investigated effects of declining plant species richness (S) on resistance to extremes in grassland communities.
  • 2Synthesized model ecosystems of different S, grown outdoors in containers, were exposed to a stress peak combining heat and drought. The heat wave was induced experimentally by infrared irradiation in free air conditions.
  • 3Before the heat wave, the more species-rich communities produced more biomass as a result of a large and positive complementarity effect that outweighed a small negative selection effect.
  • 4Water use during the heat wave was likewise enhanced by S, which could not be attributed to dominance of ‘water-wasting’ species. Instead, water consumption at high S exceeded that expected from changes in community biomass and biomass composition. The observed enhancement of resource (water) acquisition under stress with increasing S therefore probably originated from complementarity.
  • 5Despite enhanced water use in the more diverse communities, plant survival was significantly less, affecting all species alike. Physiological stress, recorded as photochemical efficiency of photosystem II electron transport, was significantly greater. Before the heat wave, the changes in biomass composition that coincided with increasing S did not favour species that would later prove intrinsically sensitive or insensitive.
  • 6Complementarity in resource use for biomass production had a cost in terms of reduced survival under stress, despite the likelihood of complementarity in water acquisition during exposure. The greater loss of individuals from the more diverse grasslands suggests enhanced risk of local extinction.

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