Limited legacy effects of extreme multiyear drought on carbon and nitrogen cycling in a mesic grassland

TitleLimited legacy effects of extreme multiyear drought on carbon and nitrogen cycling in a mesic grassland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsVilonen, LL, Blair, JM, Trivedi, P, Zeglin, LH, Smith, MD
JournalElementa: Science of the Anthropocene

The intensification of drought throughout the U.S. Great Plains has the potential to have large impacts on grassland functioning, as has been shown with dramatic losses of plant productivity annually. Yet, we have a poor understanding of how grassland functioning responds after drought ends. This study examined how belowground nutrient cycling responds after drought and whether legacy effects persist postdrought. We assessed the 2-year recovery of nutrient cycling processes following a 4-year experimental drought in a mesic grassland by comparing two different growing season drought treatments—chronic (each rainfall event reduced by 66%) and intense (all rain eliminated until 45% of annual rainfall was achieved)—to the control (ambient precipitation) treatment. At the beginning of the first growing season postdrought, we found that in situ soil CO2 efflux and laboratory-based soil microbial respiration were reduced by 42% and 22%, respectively, in the intense drought treatment compared to the control, but both measures had recovered by midseason (July) and remained similar to the control treatment in the second postdrought year. We also found that extractable soil ammonium and total inorganic N were elevated throughout the growing season in the first year after drought in the intense treatment. However, these differences in inorganic N pools did not persist during the growing season of the second year postdrought. The remaining measures of C and N cycling in both drought treatments showed no postdrought treatment effects. Thus, although we observed short-term legacy effects following the intense drought, C and N cycling returned to levels comparable to nondroughted grassland within a single growing season regardless of whether the drought was intense or chronic in nature. Overall, these results suggest that the key aspects of C and N cycling in mesic tallgrass prairie do not exhibit persistent legacies from 4 years of experimentally induced drought.