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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Food security and the agricultural economy are both dependent on the temporal stability of crop yields. To this end, increasing crop diversity has been suggested as a means to stabilize agricultural yields amidst an ongoing decrease in cropping system diversity across the world. Although diversity confers stability in many natural ecosystems, in agricultural systems the relationship between crop diversity and yield stability is not yet well resolved across spatial scales. Here, we leveraged crop area, production, and price data from 1981 to 2020 to assess the relationship between crop diversity and the stability of both economic and caloric yields at the state level within the USA. We found that, after controlling for climatic instability and differences in irrigated area, crop diversity was positively associated with economic yield stability but negatively associated with caloric yield stability. Further, we found that crops with a propensity for increasing economic yield stability but reducing caloric yield stability were often found in the most diverse states. We propose that price responses to changes in production for high-value crops underly the positive relationship between diversity and economic yield stability. In contrast, spatial concentration of calorie-dense crops in low-diversity states contributes to the negative relationship between diversity and caloric yield stability. Our results suggest that the relationship between crop diversity and yield stability is not universal, but instead dependent on the spatial scale in question and the stability metric of interest.

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  3. Globally, intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE) has risen dramatically over the past century in concert with increases in atmospheric CO 2 concentration. This increase could be further accelerated by long-term drought events, such as the ongoing multidecadal “megadrought” in the American Southwest. However, direct measurements of iWUE in this region are rare and largely constrained to trees, which may bias estimates of iWUE trends toward more mesic, high elevation areas and neglect the responses of other key plant functional types such as shrubs that are dominant across much of the region. Here, we found evidence that iWUE is increasing in the Southwest at one of the fastest rates documented due to the recent drying trend. These increases were particularly large across three common shrub species, which had a greater iWUE sensitivity to aridity than Pinus ponderosa , a common tree species in the western United States. The sensitivity of both shrub and tree iWUE to variability in atmospheric aridity exceeded their sensitivity to increasing atmospheric [CO 2 ]. The shift to more water-efficient vegetation would be, all else being equal, a net positive for plant health. However, ongoing trends toward lower plant density, diminished growth, and increasing vegetation mortality across the Southwest indicate that this increase in iWUE is unlikely to offset the negative impacts of aridification. 
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    While tree rings have enabled interannual examination of the influence of climate on trees, this is not possible for most shrubs. Here, we leverage a multidecadal record of annual foliar carbon isotope ratio collections coupled with 39 y of survey data from two populations of the drought-deciduous desert shrub Encelia farinosa to provide insight into water-use dynamics and climate. This carbon isotope record provides a unique opportunity to examine the response of desert shrubs to increasing temperature and water stress in a region where climate is changing rapidly. Population mean carbon isotope ratios fluctuated predictably in response to interannual variations in temperature, vapor pressure deficit, and precipitation, and responses were similar among individuals. We leveraged the well-established relationships between leaf carbon isotope ratios and the ratio of intracellular to ambient CO 2 concentrations to calculate intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE) of the plants and to quantify plant responses to long-term environmental change. The population mean iWUE value increased by 53 to 58% over the study period, much more than the 20 to 30% increase that has been measured in forests [J. Peñuelas, J. G. Canadell, R. Ogaya, Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 20, 597–608 (2011)]. Changes were associated with both increased CO 2 concentration and increased water stress. Individuals whose lifetimes spanned the entire study period exhibited increases in iWUE that were very similar to the population mean, suggesting that there was significant plasticity within individuals rather than selection at the population scale. 
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  6. Summary

    While plant δ15N values have been applied to understand nitrogen (N) dynamics, uncertainties regarding intraspecific and temporal variability currently limit their application. We used a 28 yr record of δ15N values from two Mojave Desert populations ofEncelia farinosato clarify sources of population‐level variability.

    We leveraged > 3500 foliar δ15N observations collected alongside structural, physiological, and climatic data to identify plant and environmental contributors to δ15N values. Additional sampling of soils, roots, stems, and leaves enabled assessment of the distribution of soil N content and δ15N, intra‐plant fractionations, and relationships between soil and plant δ15N values.

    We observed extensive within‐population variability in foliar δ15N values and found plant age and foliar %N to be the strongest predictors of individual δ15N values. There were consistent differences between root, stem, and leaf δ15N values (spanningc. 3‰), but plant and bulk soil δ15N values were unrelated.

    Plant‐level variables played a strong role in influencing foliar δ15N values, and interannual relationships between climate and δ15N values were counter to previously recognized spatial patterns. This long‐term record provides insights regarding the interpretation of δ15N values that were not available from previous large‐scale syntheses, broadly enabling more effective application of foliar δ15N values.

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