Climate controls on grass culm production over a quarter century in a tallgrass prairie

TitleClimate controls on grass culm production over a quarter century in a tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsCraine, JM, Towne, EG, Nippert, JB
Pagination2132 -2140
Accession NumberKNZ001276

The flowering of grasses is a process critical to plant population dynamics and genetics, herbivore performance, and human health. To better understand the climate factors governing grass flowering, we analyzed the patterns of culm production over 25 years for three perennial tallgrass prairie species at Konza Prairie in Kansas, USA. The three species (Andropogon gerardii, Sorghastrum nutans, and Schizachyrium scoparium) all utilize the C4 photosynthetic pathway and were measured annually at the same locations for the past 25 years in an annually burned watershed. Culm production of all three species increased with higher growing-season soil moisture and precipitation but differed in their responses to water availability at different times during the growing season. Relative to Andropogon, Sorghastrum responded more to precipitation early in the growing season, and Schizachyrium responded more to precipitation late in the growing season. Flowering by each species also revealed a threshold relationship with late-season soil moisture at ~1 m depth, which likely is a proxy for season-long water balance. Although flowering can be influenced by conditions antecedent to the current growing season, neither soil moisture nor precipitation during the previous year influenced flowering over the 25-year period. Flowering culm production averaged 9% and 7% of total graminoid aboveground net primary production (ANPP) in the uplands and lowlands, respectively. Interannual variation in ANPP correlated only with Sorghastrum flowering, suggesting a predominant role of the species in ANPP responses to climate.