Do changes in rainfall patterns affect semiarid annual plant communities?


  • Co-ordinating Editor: H. Bruelheide.

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Question: Climate change models forecast a reduction in annual precipitation and more extreme events (less rainy days and longer drought periods between rainfall events), which may have profound effects on terrestrial ecosystems. Plant growth, population and community dynamics in dry environments are likely to be affected by these changes since productivity is already limited by water availability. We tested the effects of reduced precipitation and fewer rain events on three semiarid plant communities dominated by annual species.

Location: Three semiarid plant communities from Almería province (SE Spain).

Methods: Rain-out shelters were set up in each community and watering quantity and frequency were manipulated from autumn to early summer. Plant productivity, cover and diversity were measured at the end of the experimental period.

Results: We found that a 50% reduction in watering reduced productivity, plant cover and diversity in all three communities. However, neither the 25% reduction in watering nor changes in the frequency of watering events affected these parameters.

Conclusions: The lack of response to small reductions in water could be due to the identity and resistance of the plant communities involved, which are adapted to rainfall variability characteristic of arid environments. Therefore, a rainfall reduction of 25% or less may not affect these plant communities in the short term, although higher reductions or long-term changes in water availability would probably reduce productivity and diversity in these communities.