Precipitation manipulation experiments – challenges and recommendations for the future


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Climatic changes, including altered precipitation regimes, will affect key ecosystem processes, such as plant productivity and biodiversity for many terrestrial ecosystems. Past and ongoing precipitation experiments have been conducted to quantify these potential changes. An analysis of these experiments indicates that they have provided important information on how water regulates ecosystem processes. However, they do not adequately represent global biomes nor forecasted precipitation scenarios and their potential contribution to advance our understanding of ecosystem responses to precipitation changes is therefore limited, as is their potential value for the development and testing of ecosystem models. This highlights the need for new precipitation experiments in biomes and ambient climatic conditions hitherto poorly studied applying relevant complex scenarios including changes in precipitation frequency and amplitude, seasonality, extremity and interactions with other global change drivers. A systematic and holistic approach to investigate how soil and plant community characteristics change with altered precipitation regimes and the consequent effects on ecosystem processes and functioning within these experiments will greatly increase their value to the climate change and ecosystem research communities. Experiments should specifically test how changes in precipitation leading to exceedance of biological thresholds affect ecosystem resilience and acclimation.