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Keywords:

  • annual and seasonal variability;
  • Baja California;
  • carbon balance;
  • desert shrub ecosystem;
  • eddy covariance;
  • global change;
  • Mexico;
  • net ecosystem CO2 exchange;
  • precipitation;
  • sarcocaulescent

Abstract

Estimates of net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of CO2 have been measured on a variety of ecosystems world wide including grasslands, savannahs, boreal, pine, deciduous, Mediterranean and tropical rain forests as well as arctic tundra. While there have been numerous comparisons between net primary productivity of arid and semiarid grasslands and shrublands, notably lacking are estimates of NEE with a few exceptions. The objective of this study was to characterize the seasonal and annual carbon flux of a desert shrub ecosystem using the eddy covariance technique to determine the sensitivity of the system to the timing and varying amounts of precipitation. Measurements began in July of 2001, a year with 339 mm of rainfall, considerably above the long-term average of 174 mm and preceded by 2 years of below average rainfall (50–62 mm). Over the 2 complete years of measurements, precipitation was 147 and 197 mm in 2002 and 2003, respectively. In all years, the majority of the precipitation fell between August and September. The site was a sink of −39 g C m−2 yr−1 in 2002 with a relatively strong uptake in the early part of the year and reduced uptake after the suboptimal rainfall in September. This contrasts with 2003 when the ecosystem took up −52 g C m−2 yr−1 concentrated in the fall after significant rain in August and September. Likely, extremely low rainfall years would result in a carbon loss while a strengthening of the typical winter secondary peak in precipitation (notably absent in the 2 years of measurements) may extend uptake into the spring resulting in more carbon accumulation. The system appears to be buffered against variations in annual rainfall attributed to water storage in the stems and roots.