Resilience and resistance of ecosystem functional response to a precipitation pulse in a semi-arid grassland

Authors

  • DANIEL L. POTTS,

    1. University of Arizona, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA, University of Tennessee, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA, and
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  • TRAVIS E. HUXMAN,

    1. University of Arizona, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA, University of Tennessee, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA, and
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  • BRIAN J. ENQUIST,

    1. University of Arizona, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA, University of Tennessee, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA, and
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  • JAKE F. WELTZIN,

    1. University of Arizona, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA, University of Tennessee, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA, and
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  • DAVID G. WILLIAMS

    1. University of Wyoming, Renewable Resources and Botany, Laramie, WY 82071, USA
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Daniel L. Potts (tel. +1 520 621 8220; fax +1 520 621 9190; e-mail dlpotts@email.arizona.edu).

Summary

  • 1In water-limited ecosystems, discrete precipitation events trigger brief but important episodes of biological activity. Differential responses of above- and below-ground biota to precipitation may constrain biogeochemical transformations at the ecosystem scale.
  • 2We quantified short-term dynamics of whole ecosystem response to 39 mm irrigation events (precipitation pulses) during June 2002 and 2003 using plant physiological and ecosystem gas-exchange measurements as state variables in a principal components analysis (PCA). Experimental plots consisted of either native (Heteropogon contortus L.) or non-native (Eragrostis lehmanniana Nees) bunchgrasses planted in monoculture on two distinct geomorphic surfaces in a semi-arid grassland.
  • 3For 15 days, treatments followed similar, non-linear trajectories through state variable space with measurement periods forming distinct clusters; PCA axes 1 and 2 combined to explain 80.7% of the variation during both 2002 and 2003.
  • 4During both years, bunchgrass species interacted with soil type such that there was a reduction in ecosystem functional resistance in plots planted with the non-native bunchgrass species on the fine-textured clay geomorphic surface.
  • 5System-level hysteresis, emerging as a result of independent responses of photosynthesis, respiration and evapotranspiration to precipitation, indicated the potential for alternative functional states.
  • 6Quantifying the frequency and duration of ecosystem alternative functional states in response to individual precipitation events within a season will provide insights into the controls of species, soils and climate on ecosystem carbon and water cycles.

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