Experimental drought reduces the productivity and stability of a calcareous grassland

Jackson, J.; Middleton, S. L.; Lawson, C. S.; Jardine, E.; Hawes, N.; Maseyk, K.; Salguero‐Gómez, R. and Hector, A. (2024). Experimental drought reduces the productivity and stability of a calcareous grassland. Journal of Ecology (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.14282


Grasslands, which encompass 40% of terrestrial ecosystems, hold global significance for food production, carbon storage and other ecosystem services. However, grasslands across the biosphere are becoming increasingly exposed to both wet and dry precipitation extremes resulting from climate change.
Therefore, understanding how grasslands will respond to precipitation extremes is a pressing issue for managing changes to biodiversity and ecosystem service provision.
Here, we use experimental manipulations of precipitation (50% increase and 50% decrease in growing‐season precipitation) over 6 years to investigate the stability and resistance of both productivity and community diversity in a calcareous grassland community.
We found that decreased growing‐season precipitation led to reductions in mean productivity (25% decrease in peak above‐ground biomass) and its temporal stability (54% increase in the coefficient of variation of biomass across years). Productivity losses were more pronounced for graminoids and legumes, but this was not reflected in species per cent cover. Community composition was resistant to the precipitation manipulations, with no clear differences in overall community compositional turnover, dissimilarity or biodiversity indices. There was also no detectible effect of increased precipitation on productivity or community composition, which may indicate a lack of efficacy of the irrigation treatment in increasing soil moisture. Finally, the precipitation manipulations had no effect on temporal trends of community change, with an overall increase in richness and shift in grassland community composition across the study period independent of treatment.
Synthesis. While the diversity and composition of this calcareous grassland was resistant to precipitation extremes (at least in the short term), sustained reductions in growing‐season precipitation reduced productivity and its temporal stability, particularly for graminoids and legumes. Therefore, we highlight that different properties of grasslands can vary in their responses to changes in precipitation.

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