Response of the shortgrass steppe to changes in rainfall seasonality

Publication Type:

Journal Article


ECOSYSTEMS, SPRINGER VERLAG, Volume 2, Number 2, 175 FIFTH AVE, NEW YORK, NY 10010 USA, p.139-150 (1999)


C-3 and C-4 photosynthetic pathways, Grasslands, modeling, net N mineralization, Net primary production, phenology, plant functional types, precipitation seasonality, shortgrass steppe, soil organic matter


Studies in temperate grassland ecosystems have shown that differences in composition of C-3 and C-4 plant functional types can have important influences on ecosystem pools and processes. We used a plant community dynamics model (STEPPE) linked to a biogeochemical cycling model (CENTURY) to determine how ecosystem properties in shortgrass steppe are influenced by plant functional type composition. Because of phenological differences between C-3 and C-4 plants, we additionally simulated the effects of precipitation seasonality on plant communities and examined how C-3 and C-4 composition interacts with precipitation to affect ecosystems. The model output suggests that differences in C-3 and C-4 composition can lead to differences in soil organic carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) within 1000 simulation years. Soil organic C and N (g C and N m(-2) to 0.2-m depth) were least in a 100% C-3 community compared with a 100% C-3 community and a mixed C-3-C-4 community. A change in the time of maxi-mum precipitation from summer to spring in a simulated shortgrass steppe slightly favored C-3 plants over C-4 plants. The proportion of total net primary production accounted for by C-3 plants increased from 21% to 25% after 200 years, when 90 mm of precipitation was switched from summer to spring. Soil organic matter (SOM) was relatively stable in the C-4-dominated communities with respect to changes in precipitation seasonality, whereas SOM in the C-3 community was sensitive to precipitation seasonality changes. These results suggest an important interaction between plant community composition and precipitation seasonality on SOM, with phenology playing a key role.