The timing of climate variability and grassland productivity

TitleThe timing of climate variability and grassland productivity
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsCraine, JM, Nippert, JB, Elmore, AJ, Skibbe, AM, Hutchinson, SL, Brunsell, N
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Pagination3401 -3405
Accession NumberKNZ001464

Changes in precipitation amount and variability have the potential to alter the structure and function of grasslands, but we know little about how changes in the timing of precipitation might affect grasslands. Here, we analyze long-term records from a tallgrass prairie to show that shifts in the timing of precipitation during the growing season have little effect on primary productivity or grass reproduction, but can greatly affect grazer performance. While greater late-season precipitation increases the weight gain of adult and young bison, greater mid-season precipitation decreases their weight gain. In addition, calving rates are lower after years with greater mid-season precipitation and higher after years with greater late-season precipitation. As well-timed drought can actually increase grazer weight gain and reproduction, it will be necessary to generate predictions of within-season distribution of precipitation to successfully forecast future grazer performance.