skip to main content

Attention:

The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, May 23 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, May 24 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.


This content will become publicly available on February 1, 2025

Title: Drought‐tolerant grassland species are generally more resistant to competition
Abstract

Plant populations are limited by resource availability and exhibit physiological trade‐offs in resource acquisition strategies. These trade‐offs may constrain the ability of populations to exhibit fast growth rates under water limitation and high cover of neighbours. However, traits that confer drought tolerance may also confer resistance to competition. It remains unclear how fitness responses to these abiotic conditions and biotic interactions combine to structure grassland communities and how this relationship may change along a gradient of water availability.

To address these knowledge gaps, we estimated the low‐density growth rates of populations in drought conditions with low neighbour cover and in ambient conditions with average neighbour cover for 82 species in six grassland communities across the Central Plains and Southwestern United States. We assessed the relationship between population tolerance to drought and resistance to competition and determined if this relationship was consistent across a precipitation gradient. We also tested whether population growth rates could be predicted using plant functional traits.

Across six sites, we observed a positive correlation between low‐density population growth rates in drought and in the presence of interspecific neighbours. This positive relationship was particularly strong in the grasslands of the northern Great Plains but weak in the most xeric grasslands. High leaf dry matter content and a low (more negative) leaf turgor loss point were associated with high population growth rates in drought and with neighbours in most grassland communities.

Synthesis: A better understanding of how both biotic and abiotic factors impact population fitness provides valuable insights into how grasslands will respond to extreme drought. Our results advance plant strategy theory by suggesting that drought tolerance increases population resistance to interspecific competition in grassland communities. However, this relationship is not evident in the driest grasslands, where above‐ground competition is likely less important. Leaf dry matter content and turgor loss point may help predict which populations will establish and persist based on local water availability and neighbour cover, and these predictions can be used to guide the conservation and restoration of biodiversity in grasslands.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1856383
NSF-PAR ID:
10501421
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
British Ecological Society
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Ecology
Volume:
112
Issue:
2
ISSN:
0022-0477
Page Range / eLocation ID:
416 to 426
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Consumer‐resource interactions are often influenced by other species in the community, such as when neighbouring plants increase or reduce herbivory to a focal plant species (known as associational effects). The many studies on associational effects between a focal plant and some neighbour have shown that these effects can vary greatly in strength and direction. But because almost all of these studies measure associational effects from only one or two neighbour species, we know little about the actual range of associational effects that a plant species might encounter in a natural setting. This makes it difficult to determine how important effects of neighbours are in real field settings, and how associational effects might interact with competition and other processes to influence plant community composition.

    In this study, we used a field experiment with a focal species,Solanum carolinense, and 11 common neighbour species to investigate how associational effects vary among many co‐occurring neighbour species and to test whether factors such as neighbour plant apparency, phylogenetic proximity to the focal species, or effects on focal plant defence traits help to explain interspecific variation in associational effect strength.

    We found that some neighbour species affectedS. carolinensedamage and attack by specialist herbivores, but associational effects of most neighbours were weak. Associational effects increased herbivore attack on average earlier in the season (associational susceptibility) and reduced herbivore attack on average later in the season (associational resistance) relative toS. carolinensein monoculture.

    We found some evidence that a neighbour's associational effect was related to its biomass and phylogenetic proximity to the focal species. While neighbour species differed in their effects on physical leaf traits of focal plants (trichome density, specific leaf area, and leaf toughness), these traits did not appear to mediate the effects of neighbours on focal plant herbivory.

    Synthesis. Our results suggest that the distribution of associational effect strengths in natural communities are similar to those observed for other interaction types, and that multiple mechanisms are likely acting simultaneously to shape associational effects of different neighbour species.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Transitions from grass to woody plant dominance, widely reported in arid systems, are typically attributed to changes in disturbance regimes in combination with abiotic feedbacks, whereas biotic mechanisms such as competition and facilitation are often overlooked. Yet, research in semi‐arid and subhumid savannas indicates that biotic interactions are important drivers in systems at risk for state transition. We sought to bridge this divide by experimentally manipulating grass‐on‐shrub and shrub‐on‐shrub interactions in early and late stages of grassland–shrubland state transition, respectively, and to assess the extent to which these interactions might influence arid land state transition dynamics.

    TargetProsopis glandulosashrubs had surrounding grasses or conspecific neighbours left intact or killed with foliar herbicide, and metrics of plant performance were monitored over multiple years for shrubs with and without grass or shrub neighbours.

    Productivity of small shrubs was enhanced by grass removal in years with above‐average precipitation, a result not evident in larger shrubs or during dry years. Proxy evidence based on nearest neighbour metrics suggested shrub–shrub competition was at play, but our experimental manipulations revealed no such influence.

    Competition from grasses appears to attenuate the rate at which shrubs achieve the size necessary to modify the physical environment in self‐reinforcing ways, but only during the early stages of shrub encroachment. Our results further suggest that at late stages of grassland‐to‐shrubland state transitions, shrub–shrub competition will not slow the rate of shrub expansion, and suggest that maximum shrub cover is regulated by something other than density‐dependent mechanisms. We conclude that grass effects on shrubs should be included in assessments of desert grassland state transition probabilities and rates, and that desertification models in arid ecosystems that traditionally focus on disturbance and abiotic feedbacks should be broadened to incorporate spatial and temporal variations in competitive effects.

    Aplain language summaryis available for this article.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Grasslands are subject to climate change, such as severe drought, and an important aspect of their functioning is temporal stability in response to extreme climate events. Previous research has explored the impacts of extreme drought and post‐drought periods on grassland stability, yet the mechanistic pathways behind these changes have rarely been studied.

    Here, we implemented an experiment with 4 years of drought and 3 years of recovery to assess the effects of drought and post‐drought on the temporal stability of above‐ground net primary productivity (ANPP) and its underlying mechanisms. To do so, we measured community‐weighted mean (CWM) of six plant growth and nine seed traits, functional diversity, population stability and species asynchrony across two cold, semiarid grasslands in northern China. We also performed piecewise structural equation models (SEMs) to assess the relationships between ANPP stability and its underlying mechanisms and how drought and post‐drought periods alter the relative contribution of these mechanisms to ANPP stability.

    We found that temporal stability of ANPP was not reduced during drought due to grasses maintaining productivity, which compensated for increased variation of forb productivity. Moreover, ANPP recovered rapidly after drought, and both grasses and forbs contributed to community stability during the post‐drought period. Overall, ANPP stability decreased during the combined drought and post‐drought periods because of rapid changes in ANPP from drought to post‐drought. SEMs revealed that the temporal stability of ANPP during drought and post‐drought periods was modulated by functional diversity and community‐weighted mean traits directly and indirectly by altering species asynchrony and population stability. Specifically, the temporal stability of ANPP was positively correlated with functional divergence of plant communities. CWMs of seed traits (e.g. seed width and thickness), rather than plant growth traits (e.g. specific leaf area and leaf nutrient content), stabilized grassland ANPP. Productivity of plant communities with large and thick seeds was less sensitive to precipitation changes over time.

    These results emphasize the importance of considering both the functional trait distribution among species and seed traits of dominant species since their combined effects can stabilize ecosystem functions under global climate change scenarios.

    Read the freePlain Language Summaryfor this article on the Journal blog.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Plant traits are useful proxies of plant strategies and can influence community and ecosystem responses to climate extremes, such as severe drought. Few studies, however, have investigated both the immediate and lagged effects of drought on community‐weighted mean (CWM) plant traits, with even less research on the relative roles of interspecific vs. intraspecific trait variability in such responses.

    We experimentally reduced growing season precipitation by 66% in two cold‐semi‐arid grassland sites in northern China for four consecutive years to explore the drought resistance of CWM traits as well as their recovery 2 years following the drought. In addition, we isolated the effects of both interspecific and intraspecific trait variability on shifts in CWM traits.

    At both sites, we observed significant effects of drought on interspecific and intraspecific trait variability which, in some cases, led to significant changes in CWM traits. For example, drought led to reduced CWM plant height and leaf phosphorous content, but increased leaf carbon content at both sites, with responses primarily due to intraspecific trait shifts. Surprisingly, these CWM traits recovered completely 2 years after the extreme drought. Intraspecific trait variability influenced CWM traits via both positive and negative covariation with interspecific trait variability during drought and recovery phases.

    These findings highlight the important role of interspecific and intraspecific trait variability in driving the response and recovery of CWM traits following extreme, prolonged drought.

    Read the freePlain Language Summaryfor this article on the Journal blog.

     
    more » « less
  5. Summary

    As climate change drives increased drought in many forested regions, mechanistic understanding of the factors conferring drought tolerance in trees is increasingly important. The dendrochronological record provides a window through which we can understand how tree size and traits shape growth responses to droughts.

    We analyzed tree‐ring records for 12 species in a broadleaf deciduous forest in Virginia (USA) to test hypotheses for how tree height, microenvironment characteristics, and species’ traits shaped drought responses across the three strongest regional droughts over a 60‐yr period.

    Drought tolerance (resistance, recovery, and resilience) decreased with tree height, which was strongly correlated with exposure to higher solar radiation and evaporative demand. The potentially greater rooting volume of larger trees did not confer a resistance advantage, but marginally increased recovery and resilience, in sites with low topographic wetness index. Drought tolerance was greater among species whose leaves lost turgor (wilted) at more negative water potentials and experienced less shrinkage upon desiccation.

    The tree‐ring record reveals that tree height and leaf drought tolerance traits influenced growth responses during and after significant droughts in the meteorological record. As climate change‐induced droughts intensify, tall trees with drought‐sensitive leaves will be most vulnerable to immediate and longer‐term growth reductions.

     
    more » « less