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  1. Intermittent headwater streams are highly vulnerable to environmental disturbances, but effective management of these water resources requires first understanding the mechanisms that generate streamflow. This study examined mechanisms governing streamflow generation in merokarst terrains, a type of carbonate terrain that covers much of the central United States yet has received relatively little attention in hydrological studies. We used high-frequency sampling of precipitation, stream water, and groundwater during summer 2021 to quantify the contributions to streamflow from different water sources and characterize their short-term dynamics in a 1.2 km 2 merokarst catchment at the Konza Prairie Biological Station (Kansas, USA). Mixing calculations using stable water isotopes and dissolved ions indicate that streamflow is overwhelmingly contributed by groundwater discharge from thin (1–2 m) limestone aquifers, even during wet periods, when soil water and surface runoff are generally expected to be more important. Relationships between hydraulic heads in the aquifers and their contributions to streamflow differed early in the study period compared to later, after a major storm occurred, suggesting there is a critical threshold of groundwater storage that the bedrock needs to attain before fully connecting to the stream. Furthermore, contributions from each limestone unit varied during the study period in responsemore »to differences in their hydrogeological properties and/or their stratigraphic position, which in turn impacted both the length of streamflow and its composition. Taken together, we interpret that the subsurface storage threshold and variation in aquifer properties are major controllers of flow intermittency in merokarst headwater catchments.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 4, 2024
  2. Summary

    Savannas cover a significant fraction of the Earth's land surface. In these ecosystems, C3trees and C4grasses coexist persistently, but the mechanisms explaining coexistence remain subject to debate. Different quantitative models have been proposed to explain coexistence, but these models make widely contrasting assumptions about which mechanisms are responsible for savanna persistence. Here, we show that no single existing model fully captures all key elements required to explain tree–grass coexistence across savanna rainfall gradients, but many models make important contributions. We show that recent empirical work allows us to combine many existing elements with new ideas to arrive at a synthesis that combines elements of two dominant frameworks: Walter's two‐layer model and demographic bottlenecks. We propose that functional rooting separation is necessary for coexistence and is the crux of the coexistence problem. It is both well‐supported empirically and necessary for tree persistence, given the comprehensive grass superiority for soil moisture acquisition. We argue that eventual tree dominance through shading is precluded by ecohydrological constraints in dry savannas and by fire and herbivores in wet savannas. Strong asymmetric grass–tree competition for soil moisture limits tree growth, exposing trees to persistent demographic bottlenecks.

  3. 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 commonmore »under future global environmental change.« less
  4. Summary

    Models of tree–grass coexistence in savannas make different assumptions about the relative performance of trees and grasses under wet vs dry conditions. We quantified transpiration and drought tolerance traits in 26 tree and 19 grass species from the African savanna biome across a gradient of soil water potentials to test for a trade‐off between water use under wet conditions and drought tolerance.

    We measured whole‐plant hourly transpiration in a growth chamber and quantified drought tolerance using leaf osmotic potential (Ψosm). We also quantified whole‐plant water‐use efficiency (WUE) and relative growth rate (RGR) under well‐watered conditions.

    Grasses transpired twice as much as trees on a leaf‐mass basis across all soil water potentials. Grasses also had a lower Ψosmthan trees, indicating higher drought tolerance in the former. Higher grass transpiration and WUE combined to largely explain the threefold RGR advantage in grasses.

    Our results suggest that grasses outperform trees under a wide range of conditions, and that there is no evidence for a trade‐off in water‐use patterns in wet vs dry soils. This work will help inform mechanistic models of water use in savanna ecosystems, providing much‐needed whole‐plant parameter estimates for African species.

  5. Abstract

    Grassland ecosystems are historically shaped by climate, fire, and grazing which are essential ecological drivers. These grassland drivers influence morphology and productivity of grasses via physiological processes, resulting in unique water and carbon-use strategies among species and populations. Leaf-level physiological responses in plants are constrained by the underlying anatomy, previously shown to reflect patterns of carbon assimilation and water-use in leaf tissues. However, the magnitude to which anatomy and physiology are impacted by grassland drivers remains unstudied. To address this knowledge gap, we sampled from three locations along a latitudinal gradient in the mesic grassland region of the central Great Plains, USA during the 2018 (drier) and 2019 (wetter) growing seasons. We measured annual biomass and forage quality at the plot level, while collecting physiological and anatomical traits at the leaf-level in cattle grazed and ungrazed locations at each site. Effects of ambient drought conditions superseded local grazing treatments and reduced carbon assimilation and total productivity inA. gerardii. Leaf-level anatomical traits, particularly those associated with water-use, varied within and across locations and between years. Specifically, xylem area increased when water was more available (2019), while xylem resistance to cavitation was observed to increase in the drier growing season (2018).more »Our results highlight the importance of multi-year studies in natural systems and how trait plasticity can serve as vital tool and offer insight to understanding future grassland responses from climate change as climate played a stronger role than grazing in shaping leaf physiology and anatomy.

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  6. Dreisigacker, Susanne (Ed.)
    Abstract Over the past century of maize (Zea mays L.) breeding, grain yield progress has been the result of improvements in several other intrinsic physiological and morphological traits. In this study, we describe (i) the contribution of kernel weight (KW) to yield genetic gain across multiple agronomic settings and breeding programs, and (ii) the physiological bases for improvements in KW for US hybrids. A global-scale literature review concludes that rates of KW improvement in US hybrids were similar to those of other commercial breeding programs but extended over a longer period of time. There is room for a continued increase of kernel size in maize for most of the genetic materials analysed, but the trade-off between kernel number and KW poses a challenge for future yield progress. Through phenotypic characterization of Pioneer Hi-Bred ERA hybrids in the USA, we determine that improvements in KW have been predominantly related to an extended kernel-filling duration. Likewise, crop improvement has conferred on modern hybrids greater KW plasticity, expressed as a better ability to respond to changes in assimilate availability. Our analysis of past trends and current state of development helps to identify candidate targets for future improvements in maize.
  7. Woody encroachment is a widespread phenomenon in grassland ecosystems, driven by overgrazing, fire suppression, nitrogen deposition and climate change, among other environmental changes. The influence of woody encroachment on processes such as chemical weathering however is poorly understood. In particular, for fast reactions such as carbonate weathering, root traits associated with woody encroachment (e.g., coarser, deeper, and longer residence times) can potentially change fluxes of inorganic carbon into streams and back to the atmosphere, providing CO2-climate feedbacks. Here we examine the influence of deepening roots arising from woody encroachment on catchment water balance and carbonate weathering rates at Konza a tallgrass prairie within a carbonate terrain where woody encroachment is suspected to drive the groundwater alkalinity upwards. We use a watershed reactive transport model BioRT-Flux-PIHM to understand the ramifications of deepening roots. Stream discharge and evapotranspiration (ET) measurements were used to calibrate the hydrology model. The subsurface CO2 concentration, water quality data for groundwater, stream, soil water and precipitation were used to constrain the soil respiration and carbonate dissolution reaction rates. The hydrology model has a Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency value of 0.88. Modelling results from numerical experiments indicate that woody encroachment results in overall lower stream flow due to higher ET,more »yet the groundwater recharge is higher due to deep macropore development from deepening roots. The deeper macropores enhance carbonate weathering rate as more acidic, CO2-rich water recharges the deeper calcite bedrock. Accounting for the change in inorganic carbon fluxes caused by such land use changes gives a better estimate of carbon fluxes in the biosphere. Such knowledge is essential for effective planning of climate change mitigation strategies.« less