Plant responses, climate pivot points, and trade-offs in water-limited ecosystems




Plant species in dryland ecosystems are limited by water availability and may be vulnerable to increases in aridity. Methods are needed to monitor and assess the rate of change in plant abundance and composition in relation to climate, understand the potential for degradation in dryland ecosystems, and forecast future changes in plant species assemblages. I employ nearly a century of vegetation monitoring data from three North American deserts to demonstrate an approach to determine plant species responses to climate and critical points over a range of climatic conditions at which plant species shift from increases to decreases in abundance (climate pivot points). I assess these metrics from a site to regional scale and highlight how these indicators of plant performance can be modified by the physical and biotic environment. For example, shrubs were more responsive to drought and high temperatures on shallow soils with limited capacity to store water and fine-textured soils with slow percolation rates, whereas perennial grasses were more responsive to precipitation in sparse shrublands than in relatively dense grasslands and shrublands, where competition for water is likely more intense. The responses and associated climate pivot points of plant species aligned with their lifespan and structural characteristics, and the relationship between responses and climate pivot points provides evidence of the trade-off between the capacity of a plant species to increase in abundance when water is available and its drought resistance.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Plant responses, climate pivot points, and trade-offs in water-limited ecosystems
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1890/ES13-00132.1
Volume 4
Issue 9
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 15 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Ecosphere
Country United States
State Arizona;New Mexico;Texas;Utah
Other Geospatial Chihuahuan Desert;Colorado Plateau;Sonoran Desert
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