|Defoliation synchronizes above-ground growth of co-occurring C4 grass species
|Year of Publication
|Swemmer, AM, Knapp, AK
The aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) of grass communities in grasslands and savannas is primarily determined by precipitation quantity. Recent research, motivated by predictions of changes in the distribution of rainfall events by global climate change models, indicates that ANPP may be affected by rainfall distribution as much as by annual totals. Grazing and community composition are also known to affect grassland ANPP. The manner in which interactions between rainfall distribution, grazing, and community composition affect the relationship between precipitation and ANPP represents a critical knowledge gap. The effects of community composition and grazing on aboveground growth responses to intraseasonal variation in water availability were investigated at seven grassland sites with a nonselective clipping experiment. The aboveground growth of the dominant C4 species at each site was measured at regular intervals for 2–3 growing seasons in the presence or absence of regular defoliation. In the absence of defoliation, there was a general lack of synchrony of intraseasonal growth among co-occurring species. Variation in growth rates was high and was only partially explained by variation in rainfall. Regular defoliation increased growth synchrony at all sites, but changes in growth responses to rainfall varied between sites. These results suggest that community composition will be important in determining ANPP–precipitation relationships under conditions of altered rainfall distribution. However this effect appears to be a result of species responding differently to soil water or other resources rather than to rainfall per se. Grazing may override the effects of community composition by reducing differences in growth patterns between species and has the potential to weaken precipitation controls on ANPP.