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Title: Responses of a semiarid grassland to recurrent drought are linked to community functional composition

Recurrent droughts are an inevitable consequence of climate change, yet how grasslands respond to such events is unclear. We conducted a 6‐year rainfall manipulation experiment in a semiarid grassland that consisted of an initial 2‐year drought (2015–2016), followed by a recovery period (2017–2018) and, finally, a second 2‐year drought (2019–2020). In each year, we estimated aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), species richness, community‐weighted mean (CWM) plant traits, and several indices of functional diversity. The initial drought led to reduced ANPP, which was primarily driven by limited growth of forbs in the first year and grasses in the second year. Total ANPP completely recovered as the rapid recovery of grass productivity compensated for the slow recovery of forb productivity. The subsequent drought led to a greater reduction in total ANPP than the initial drought due to the greater decline of both grass and forb productivity. The structural equation models revealed that soil moisture influenced ANPP responses directly during the initial drought, and indirectly during the subsequent drought by lowering functional diversity, which resulted in reduced total ANPP. Additionally, ANPP was positively influenced by CWM plant height and leaf nitrogen during the recovery period and recurrent drought, respectively. Overall, the greater impact of the second drought on ecosystem function than the initial drought, as well as the underlying differential mechanism, underscores the need for an understanding of how increased drought frequency may alter semiarid grassland functioning.

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Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
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Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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