The influence of climate, soils, weather, and land use on primary production and biomass seasonality in the US Great Plains

Publication Type:

Journal Article


ECOSYSTEMS, SPRINGER, Volume 9, Number 6, 233 SPRING STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10013 USA, p.934-950 (2006)


agriculture, carbon, climate, cropping, grassland, land use, primary production, seasonality, soil, US Great Plains, weather


Identifying the conditions and mechanisms that control ecosystem processes, such as net primary production, is a central goal of ecosystem ecology. Ideas have ranged from single limiting-resource theories to colimitation by nutrients and climate, to simulation models with edaphic, climatic, and competitive controls. Although some investigators have begun to consider the influence of land-use practices, especially cropping, few studies have quantified the impact of cropping at large scales relative to other known controls over ecosystem processes. We used a 9-year record of productivity, biomass seasonality, climate, weather, soil conditions, and cropping in the US Great Plains to quantify the controls over spatial and temporal patterns of net primary production and to estimate sensitivity to specific driving variables. We considered climate, soil conditions, and long-term average cropping as controls over spatial patterns, while weather and interannual cropping variations were used as controls over temporal variability. We found that variation in primary production is primarily spatial, whereas variation in seasonality is more evenly split between spatial and temporal components. Our statistical (multiple linear regression) models explained more of the variation in the amount of primary production than in its seasonality, and more of the spatial than the temporal patterns. Our results indicate that although climate is the most important variable for explaining spatial patterns, cropping explains a substantial amount of the residual variability. Soil texture and depth contributed very little to our models of spatial variability. Weather and cropping deviation both made modest contributions to the models of temporal variability. These results suggest that the controls over seasonality and temporal variation are not well understood. Our sensitivity analysis indicates that production is more sensitive to climate than to weather and that it is very sensitive to cropping intensity. In addition to identifying potential gaps in out knowledge, these results provide insight into the probable long- and short-term ecosystem response to changes in climate, weather, and cropping.