Contrasting sensitivities of two dominant C4 grasses to heat waves and drought

TitleContrasting sensitivities of two dominant C4 grasses to heat waves and drought
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsHoover, DL, Smith, MD
JournalPlant Ecology
Pagination721 -731
Accession NumberKNZ001690
KeywordsClimate change, Climate extremes, Mesic grassland, photosynthesis, productivity

Heat waves and droughts are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity with climate change. However, we lack a mechanistic understanding of the independent and interactive effects of severe heat and water stress for most ecosystems. In a mesic tallgrass prairie ecosystem, we used a factorial experimental approach to assess ecophysiological and productivity responses of two dominant C4 grasses, Andropogon gerardii and Sorghastrum nutans, to a season-long drought and a mid-summer heat wave at four intensities. We hypothesized that drought would have greater impacts than heat waves, that combined effects would be greater than either factor alone, and that the dominant grasses would differ in their responses to heat and water heat stress. We detected significant reductions in photosynthesis, leaf water potential, and productivity with drought but few direct responses to the heat waves. Surprisingly, there was no additive effect of heat and water stress on any plant response. However, S. nutans was more sensitive than A. gerardii to drought. In this grassland, water stress will likely dominate photosynthetic and productivity responses caused by discrete drought and heat wave events, rather than direct or additive effects of heat stress, with differential sensitivity in these grasses altering future ecosystem structure and function.