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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. The widespread extirpation of megafauna may have destabilized ecosystems and altered biodiversity globally. Most megafauna extinctions occurred before the modern record, leaving it unclear how their loss impacts current biodiversity. We report the long-term effects of reintroducing plains bison ( Bison bison ) in a tallgrass prairie versus two land uses that commonly occur in many North American grasslands: 1) no grazing and 2) intensive growing-season grazing by domesticated cattle ( Bos taurus ). Compared to ungrazed areas, reintroducing bison increased native plant species richness by 103% at local scales (10 m 2 ) and 86% at the catchment scale. Gains in richness continued for 29 y and were resilient to the most extreme drought in four decades. These gains are now among the largest recorded increases in species richness due to grazing in grasslands globally. Grazing by domestic cattle also increased native plant species richness, but by less than half as much as bison. This study indicates that some ecosystems maintain a latent potential for increased native plant species richness following the reintroduction of native herbivores, which was unmatched by domesticated grazers. Native-grazer gains in richness were resilient to an extreme drought, a pressure likely to become more common under future global environmental change. 
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  3. abstract

    Long-term observations and experiments in diverse drylands reveal how ecosystems and services are responding to climate change. To develop generalities about climate change impacts at dryland sites, we compared broadscale patterns in climate and synthesized primary production responses among the eight terrestrial, nonforested sites of the United States Long-Term Ecological Research (US LTER) Network located in temperate (Southwest and Midwest) and polar (Arctic and Antarctic) regions. All sites experienced warming in recent decades, whereas drought varied regionally with multidecadal phases. Multiple years of wet or dry conditions had larger effects than single years on primary production. Droughts, floods, and wildfires altered resource availability and restructured plant communities, with greater impacts on primary production than warming alone. During severe regional droughts, air pollution from wildfire and dust events peaked. Studies at US LTER drylands over more than 40 years demonstrate reciprocal links and feedbacks among dryland ecosystems, climate-driven disturbance events, and climate change.

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  6. Abstract

    Climate change is expected to shift precipitation regimes in the North American Central Plains with likely impacts on ecosystem functioning. In tallgrass prairies, water and nitrogen (N) can co‐limit ecosystem processes, so changes in precipitation may have complex effects on carbon (C) and N cycling. Rates of N supply such as N mineralization and nitrification respond differently to short‐ and long‐term patterns in water availability, and previous climate patterns may exert legacy effects on current N cycling that could alter ecosystem sensitivity to current precipitation regimes. We used a long‐term precipitation manipulation at Konza Prairie (Kansas, USA) to assess how previous and current precipitation influence tallgrass prairie N cycling. Supplemental irrigation was applied across upland and lowland prairie for ∼25 years to reduce water deficits; in 2017, we reversed some of these treatments and added a reduced rainfall treatment across both historic rainfall regimes, allowing us to assess how previous climate and current rainfall patterns interact to shape N cycling. In lowland prairie, previous irrigation doubled N mineralization and nitrification rates the year following cessation of irrigation. Reduced microbial C:N ratio and lower relative investment in N‐acquiring enzymes in previously irrigated lowlands suggested that a wetter climate created a legacy of increased N availability for microbes. Internal plant N resorption increased under short‐term irrigation but recovered to ambient levels following previous irrigation. Together, these results suggest that a history of wetter conditions can create a legacy of accelerated N cycling, with consequences for both plant and microbial functioning.

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  8. Abstract

    Climate variability and periodic droughts have complex effects on carbon (C) fluxes, with uncertain implications for ecosystem C balance under a changing climate. Responses to climate change can be modulated by persistent effects of climate history on plant communities, soil microbial activity, and nutrient cycling (i.e., legacies). To assess how legacies of past precipitation regimes influence tallgrass prairie C cycling under new precipitation regimes, we modified a long‐term irrigation experiment that simulated a wetter climate for >25 years. We reversed irrigated and control (ambient precipitation) treatments in some plots and imposed an experimental drought in plots with a history of irrigation or ambient precipitation to assess how climate legacies affect aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), soil respiration, and selected soil C pools. Legacy effects of elevated precipitation (irrigation) included higher C fluxes and altered labile soil C pools, and in some cases altered sensitivity to new climate treatments. Indeed, decades of irrigation reduced the sensitivity of both ANPP and soil respiration to drought compared with controls. Positive legacy effects of irrigation on ANPP persisted for at least 3 years following treatment reversal, were apparent in both wet and dry years, and were associated with altered plant functional composition. In contrast, legacy effects on soil respiration were comparatively short‐lived and did not manifest under natural or experimentally‐imposed “wet years,” suggesting that legacy effects on CO2efflux are contingent on current conditions. Although total soil C remained similar across treatments, long‐term irrigation increased labile soil C and the sensitivity of microbial biomass C to drought. Importantly, the magnitude of legacy effects for all response variables varied with topography, suggesting that landscape can modulate the strength and direction of climate legacies. Our results demonstrate the role of climate history as an important determinant of terrestrial C cycling responses to future climate changes.

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