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  1. Hui, Dafeng (Ed.)
    Abstract Aims Determining the ecological consequences of interactions between slow changes in long-term climate means and amplified variability in climate is an important research frontier in plant ecology. We combined the recent approach of climate sensitivity functions with a revised hydrological ‘bucket model’ to improve predictions on how plant species will respond to changes in the mean and variance of groundwater resources. Methods We leveraged spatiotemporal variation in long-term datasets of riparian vegetation cover and groundwater levels to build the first groundwater sensitivity functions for common plant species of dryland riparian corridors. Our results demonstrate the value of this approach to identifying which plant species will thrive (or fail) in an increasingly variable climate layered with declining groundwater stores. Important Findings Riparian plant species differed in sensitivity to both the mean and variance in groundwater levels. Rio Grande cottonwood (Populus deltoides ssp. wislizenii) cover was predicted to decline with greater inter-annual groundwater variance, while coyote willow (Salix exigua) and other native wetland species were predicted to benefit from greater year-to-year variance. No non-native species were sensitive to groundwater variance, but patterns for Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) predict declines under deeper mean groundwater tables. Warm air temperatures modulated groundwater sensitivity for cottonwood, which was more sensitive to variability in groundwater in years/sites with warmer maximum temperatures than in cool sites/periods. Cottonwood cover declined most with greater intra-annual coefficients of variation (CV) in groundwater, but was not significantly correlated with inter-annual CV, perhaps due to the short time series (16 years) relative to cottonwood lifespan. In contrast, non-native tamarisk (Tamarix chinensis) cover increased with both intra- and inter-annual CV in groundwater. Altogether, our results predict that changes in groundwater variability and mean will affect riparian plant communities through the differential sensitivities of individual plant species to mean versus variance in groundwater stores. 
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  2. Abstract Questions

    Predicting the influence of climate change on riparian plant communities improves management strategies. The sensitivity of riparian vegetation to climate and other abiotic factors depends on interactions between properties of the ecosystem, like flood regime, and plant characteristics. To explore these interactions, we addressed three questions: (a) does the composition and diversity of riparian vegetation vary with the flood regime; (b) do abiotic correlates of vegetation, including climate and groundwater, differ between sites that flood compared to locations that did not experience floods; and (c) which plant functional groups account for differential plant community sensitivity to abiotic factors between flood regimes?


    Middle Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico.


    We used long‐term observations of plant community composition, groundwater depth, precipitation and interpolated temperature from 24 sites spanning 210 km of the Rio Grande riparian cottonwood–willow forest to explore the relative importance of climate and hydrologic correlates of riparian vegetation diversity and composition.


    Riparian plant diversity was higher at sites flooding compared to non‐flooding sites. Plant diversity positively tracked shallower groundwater depth at flooding sites, but was best predicted by intra‐annual groundwater variability at non‐flooding sites. Plant community composition correlated with groundwater depth and air temperature at all sites, but at non‐flooding sites, also with intra‐annual groundwater variability and precipitation. Relationships between native plant cover and potential environmental drivers diverged strongly between the two flood regimes; non‐native plant cover had only weak relationships with most environmental predictors.


    The current flood regime of a site determined the climate and hydrologic factors that best predicted riparian plant community composition and diversity. Relationships between plant diversity or total cover and groundwater, temperature, precipitation, or groundwater variability can change in strength or direction depending on a site's flood history, highlighting the importance of flood regime to predicting the sensitivity of riparian woodlands to future environmental change.

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