The effect of timing of growing season drought on flowering of a dominant C4 grass

TitleThe effect of timing of growing season drought on flowering of a dominant C4 grass
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsDietrich, JD, Smith, MD
Pagination391 - 399
Accession NumberKNZ001751
KeywordsAboveground net primary productivity, Andropogon gerardii, Ecophysiology, Precipitation timing, tallgrass prairie

Timing of precipitation is equally important as amount for determining ecosystem function, especially aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), in a number of ecosystems. In tallgrass prairie of the Central Plains of North America, grass flowering stalks of dominant C4 grasses, such as Andropogon gerardii, can account for more than 70 % of ANPP, or almost none of it, as the number of flowering stalks produced is highly variable. Although growing season precipitation amount is important for driving variation in flowering stalk production, it remains unknown whether there are critical periods within the growing season in which sufficient rainfall must occur to allow for flowering. The effect of timing of rainfall deficit (drought) on flowering of A. gerardii, was tested by excluding rainfall during three periods within the growing season (starting in mid-April, mid-May and mid-June). Mid-summer drought (starting in mid-June) strongly reduced the flowering rate (e.g., density and biomass) of A. gerardii (e.g., as high as 94 % compared to the control), suggesting flowering is highly sensitive to precipitation at this time. This effect appeared to be related to plant water status at the time of flowering stalk initiation, rather than an indirect consequence of reduced C assimilation. Our results suggest that increased frequency of growing season drought forecast with climate change could reduce sexual reproduction in this dominant grass species, particularly if it coincides with timing of flowering stalk initiation, with important implications for ecosystem functioning.

Short TitleOecologia