Geographic variation in growth and phenology of two dominant Central US grasses: Consequences for climate change

TitleGeographic variation in growth and phenology of two dominant Central US grasses: Consequences for climate change
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsGiuliani, AL, Kelly, EF, Knapp, AK
JournalJournal of Plant Ecology
Pagination211 -221
Accession NumberKNZ001553
Keywordsgrassland, phenology, productivity, traits, water stress

Aims The rate of climate change may exceed many plant species’ migration rates, particularly for long-lived perennial species that dominate most ecosystems. If bioclimatic envelopes shift more rapidly than dominant species can migrate, individuals located peripheral to biomes or in adjacent biomes may become a significant source of traits for future dominant populations (DPs). Thus, traits of individuals from peripheral populations (PPs) may affect future ecosystem functioning more than those of today’s DPs. Methods We assessed key traits of individuals collected from populations that currently dominate two central US grasslands, the shortgrass steppe (Bouteloua gracilis) and the tallgrass prairie (Andropogon gerardii). We compared these to individuals from PPs in a reciprocal-transplant common garden experiment with gardens at the Shortgrass Steppe Long Term Ecological Research site in Colorado and the Konza Prairie Biological Station Long Term Ecological Research site in Kansas. DPs and PPs were subjected to high and reduced water availability in common gardens located in each biome. Traits measured included the following: individual plant biomass, reproductive allocation, specific leaf area (SLA) and plant–water relations. We focused on the climate-change relevant comparisons of traits from PPs versus DPs expressed under the climate of DPs. Important Findings PPs of B. gracilis differed from DPs primarily in phenological traits. Under a semiarid shortgrass steppe climate, PPs initiated flowering later in the season, produced fewer reproductive tillers and were more sensitive to water stress. Biomass differences between populations were minimal. For A. gerardii, biomass in PPs was 50% lower than in DPs under the mesic tallgrass prairie climate and reproductive tillers were considerably smaller, despite higher SLA in PPs. Biomass of PPs was less sensitive to water stress, however. From these results, we conclude that key traits of PPs differed from DPs in both grassland types, but potential effects on reproductive phenology were greater for the bioclimatic shift in which a mesic biome becomes arid, whereas aboveground productivity may be affected more when a semiarid biome becomes more mesic.