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Title: Abrupt transitions in a southwest USA desert grassland related to the P acific D ecadal O scillation

Prediction of abrupt ecosystem transitions resulting from climatic change will be an essential element of adaptation strategies in the coming decades. In the arid southwest USA, the collapse and recovery of long‐lived perennial grasses have important effects on ecosystem services, but the causes of these variations have been poorly understood. Here we use a quality‐controlled vegetation monitoring dataset initiated in 1915 to show that grass cover dynamics during the 20th century were closely correlated to the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) index. The relationship out‐performed models correlating grasses to yearly precipitation and drought indices, suggesting that ecosystem transitions attributed only to local disturbances were instead influenced by climate teleconnections. Shifts in PDO phase over time were associated with the persistent loss of core grass species and recovery of transient species, so recovery of grasses in aggregate concealed significant changes in species composition. However, the relationship between PDO and grass cover broke down after 1995; grass cover is consistently lower than PDO would predict. The decoupling of grass cover from the PDO suggests that a threshold had been crossed in which warming or land degradation overwhelmed the ability of any grass species to recover during favorable periods.

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Award ID(s):
2025166 1832194
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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