Intra-seasonal precipitation patterns and aboveground productivity in three perennial grasslands

TitleIntra-seasonal precipitation patterns and aboveground productivity in three perennial grasslands
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsSwemmer, AM, Knapp, AK, Snyman, HA
JournalJournal of Ecology
Pagination780 -788
Accession NumberKNZ001122

1 Relationships between above-ground net primary productivity (ANPP) of grasslands and annual precipitation are often weak at the site level, with much of the inter-annual variation in ANPP left unexplained. A potential reason for this is that the distribution of precipitation within a growing season affects productivity in addition to the total amount.
2 We analysed long-term ANPP data for three southern African temperate grasslands (mean annual precipitation ranging from 538 mm to 798 mm) to determine the effects of precipitation event size, number and spacing relative to seasonal totals.
3 Ungrazed, non-manipulated treatments at each site showed contrasting results despite sharing a common, dominant species. At the driest site, a model combining average event size and number of events per growing season provided a substantially better fit to the ANPP data than precipitation amount (seasonal total). At the wettest site, the interval between events was the most important precipitation variable. Precipitation distribution was not important at the intermediate site where amount was the best predictor of ANPP. A limit to the size of precipitation events efficiently utilized for ANPP was evident for the driest site only.
4 At each site, experimental treatments that altered species composition and soil fertility had little effect on precipitation–ANPP relationships. The lack of consistency in the relative importance of the precipitation variables among sites suggests that local, edaphic factors modify precipitation–ANPP relationships.
5 This analysis demonstrates that the distribution and size of precipitation events can affect ANPP independent of precipitation amount. As altered precipitation regimes are forecast by global climate models, the sensitivity of ecosystems to precipitation distribution should be considered when predicting responses to climate change.
6 While mean values of precipitation, and other ecosystem drivers, are typically used to predict function at the level of whole ecosystems, our results show that more complex measures of environmental variability may be required to understand ecosystem function, and to increase the accuracy of predictions of ecosystem responses to global change.