Productivity of North American grasslands is increased under future climate scenarios despite rising aridity

TitleProductivity of North American grasslands is increased under future climate scenarios despite rising aridity
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsHufkens, K, Keenan, TF, Flanagan, LB, Scott, RL, Bernacchi, CJ, Joo, E, Brunsell, N, Verfaillie, J, Richardson, AD
JournalNature Climate Change
Accession NumberKNZ001739

Grassland productivity is regulated by both temperature and the amount and timing of precipitation1, 2. Future climate change is therefore expected to influence grassland phenology and growth, with consequences for ecosystems and economies. However, the interacting effects of major shifts in temperature and precipitation on grasslands remain poorly understood and existing modelling approaches, although typically complex, do not extrapolate or generalize well and tend to disagree under future scenarios3, 4. Here we explore the potential responses of North American grasslands to climate change using a new, data-informed vegetation–hydrological model, a network of high-frequency ground observations across a wide range of grassland ecosystems and CMIP5 climate projections. Our results suggest widespread and consistent increases in vegetation fractional cover for the current range of grassland ecosystems throughout most of North America, despite the increase in aridity projected across most of our study area. Our analysis indicates a likely future shift of vegetation growth towards both earlier spring emergence and delayed autumn senescence, which would compensate for drought-induced reductions in summer fractional cover and productivity. However, because our model does not include the effects of rising atmospheric CO2 on photosynthesis and water use efficiency5, 6, climate change impacts on grassland productivity may be even larger than our results suggest. Increases in the productivity of North American grasslands over this coming century have implications for agriculture, carbon cycling and vegetation feedbacks to the atmosphere.

Short TitleNature Climate change