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Title: Climate variability supersedes grazing to determine the anatomy and physiology of a dominant grassland species

Grassland ecosystems are historically shaped by climate, fire, and grazing which are essential ecological drivers. These grassland drivers influence morphology and productivity of grasses via physiological processes, resulting in unique water and carbon-use strategies among species and populations. Leaf-level physiological responses in plants are constrained by the underlying anatomy, previously shown to reflect patterns of carbon assimilation and water-use in leaf tissues. However, the magnitude to which anatomy and physiology are impacted by grassland drivers remains unstudied. To address this knowledge gap, we sampled from three locations along a latitudinal gradient in the mesic grassland region of the central Great Plains, USA during the 2018 (drier) and 2019 (wetter) growing seasons. We measured annual biomass and forage quality at the plot level, while collecting physiological and anatomical traits at the leaf-level in cattle grazed and ungrazed locations at each site. Effects of ambient drought conditions superseded local grazing treatments and reduced carbon assimilation and total productivity inA. gerardii. Leaf-level anatomical traits, particularly those associated with water-use, varied within and across locations and between years. Specifically, xylem area increased when water was more available (2019), while xylem resistance to cavitation was observed to increase in the drier growing season (2018). Our results highlight the importance of multi-year studies in natural systems and how trait plasticity can serve as vital tool and offer insight to understanding future grassland responses from climate change as climate played a stronger role than grazing in shaping leaf physiology and anatomy.

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Publisher / Repository:
Springer Science + Business Media
Date Published:
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Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 345-355
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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