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Title: Climate‐driven diversity change in annual grasslands: Drought plus deluge does not equal normal

Climate forecasts agree that increased variability and extremes will tend to reduce the availability of water in many terrestrial ecosystems. Increasingly severe droughts may be exacerbated both by warmer temperatures and by the relative unavailability of water that arrives in more sporadic and intense rainfall events. Using long‐term data and an experimental water manipulation, we examined the resilience of a heterogeneous annual grassland community to a prolonged series of dry winters that led to a decline in plant species richness (2000–2014), followed by a near‐record wet winter (2016–2017), a climatic sequence that broadly resembles the predicted future in its high variability. In our 80, 5‐m2observational plots, species richness did not recover in response to the wet winter, and the positive relationship of richness to annual winter rainfall thus showed a significant weakening trend over the 18‐year time period. In experiments on 100, 1‐m2plots, wintertime water supplementation increased and drought shelters decreased the seedling survival and final individual biomass of native annual forbs, the main functional group contributing to the observed long‐term decline in richness. Water supplementation also increased the total cover of native annual forbs, but only increased richness within nested subplots to which seeds were also added. We conclude that prolonged dry winters, by increasing seedling mortality and reducing growth of native forbs, may have diminished the seedbank and thus the recovery potential of diversity in this community. However, the wet winter and the watering treatment did cause recovery of the community mean values of a key functional trait (specific leaf area, an indicator of drought intolerance), suggesting that some aggregate community properties may be stabilized by functional redundancy among species.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Global Change Biology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1782-1792
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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