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  1. 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.

  2. 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 Effects of ambient drought conditions superseded local grazing treatments and reduced carbon assimilation and total productivity inA.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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    Fire can impact terrestrial ecosystems by changing abiotic and biotic conditions. Short fire intervals maintain grasslands and communities adapted to frequent, low-severity fires. Shrub encroachment that follows longer fire intervals accumulates fuel and can increase fire severity. This patchily distributed biomass creates mosaics of burn severities in the landscape—pyrodiversity. Afforded by a scheduled burn of a watershed protected from fires for 27 years, we investigated effects of woody encroachment and burn severity on soil chemistry and soil-inhabiting bacteria and fungi. We compared soils before and after fire within the fire-protected, shrub-encroached watershed and soils in an adjacent, annually burned and non-encroached watershed. Organic matter and nutrients accumulated in the fire-protected watershed but responded less to woody encroachment within the encroached watershed. Bioavailable nitrogen and phosphorus and fungal and bacterial communities responded to high-severity burn regardless of encroachment. Low-severity fire effects on soil nutrients differed, increased bacterial but decreased fungal diversity and effects of woody encroachment within the encroached watershed were minimal. High-severity burns in the fire-protected watershed led to a novel soil system state distinct from non-encroached and encroached soil systems. We conclude that severe fires may open grassland restoration opportunities to manipulate soil chemistry and microbial communities inmore »shrub-encroached habitats.

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  4. Abstract

    Intensification of livestock production has reduced heterogeneity in vegetative structure in managed grasslands, which has been linked to widespread declines in grassland songbird populations throughout North America. Patch-burn grazing management aims to restore some of that heterogeneity in vegetative structure by burning discrete pasture sections, so that cattle preferentially graze in recently burned areas. Although patch-burn grazing can increase reproductive success of grassland songbirds, we know little about possible interactions with regional variation in predator communities or brood parasite abundance, or annual variation in weather conditions. Using six years of data from two tallgrass prairie sites in eastern Kansas, USA, we tested effects of patch-burn grazing on the rates of brood parasitism, clutch size, nest survival, and fledging success of three common grassland songbirds, Dickcissels (Spiza americana), Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna), and Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum), among pastures managed with patch-burn grazing versus pastures that were annually burned and either grazed or ungrazed. Dickcissel nests experienced lower parasitism (72.8 ± 4.6% SE vs. 89.1 ± 2.2%) and Eastern Meadowlarks had higher nest survival (63.2 ± 20.5% vs. 16.5 ± 3.5%) in annually burned and ungrazed pastures than pastures managed with patch-burn grazing. However, average number of host fledglings permore »nesting attempt did not differ among management treatments for any species. Annual variation in weather conditions had a large effect on vegetation structure, but not on reproductive success. Probability of brood parasitism was consistently high (25.5‒84.7%) and nest survival was consistently low (9.9–16.9%) for all species pooled across treatments, sites, and years, indicating that combined effects of predation, parasitism and drought can offset potential benefits of patch-burn grazing management previously found in tallgrass prairies. Although differences in reproductive success among management treatments were minimal, patch-burn grazing management could still benefit population dynamics of grassland songbirds in areas where nest predators and brood parasites are locally abundant by providing suitable nesting habitat for bird species that require greater amounts of vegetation cover and litter, generally not present in burned pastures.

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  5. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
  6. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 19, 2023
  7. 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
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 6, 2023
  8. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2023
  9. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  10. Penuelas, Josep (Ed.)
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023