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Geographic patterns of simulated establishment of two Bouteloua species: implications for distributions of dominants and ecotones

Minnick, Tamera J., Coffin, Debra P.
Journal of vegetation science 1999 v.10 no.3 pp. 343-356
Bouteloua eriopoda, Bouteloua gracilis, climate, climate change, confidence interval, ecotones, geographical distribution, germination, models, recruitment, soil temperature, soil water, species diversity, steppes, Colorado, New Mexico
Our overall objective was to use a soil water model to predict spatial patterns in germination and establishment of two important perennial C₄‐bunchgrasses across the North American shortgrass steppe and desert grassland regions. We also predicted changes in establishment patterns under climate change scenarios. Bouteloua gracilis dominates the shortgrass steppe from northeastern Colorado to southeastern New Mexico. Bouteloua eriopoda dominates desert grasslands in central and southern New Mexico. Germination and establishment for each species were predicted at 16 sites along the gradient using a daily time step, multi‐layer soil water model (SOILWAT) to determine the percentage of years that temperature and soil water criteria for germination and establishment were met. Percentage of years with predicted establishment decreased from north to south for B. gracilis, but increased from north to south for B. eriopoda, comparable to observed dominance patterns. The 95 % confidence interval around the point at which simulated establishment were equal for the two species was near the location of the shortgrass steppe‐desert grassland ecotone where both species are abundant. The intersection in percentage of years with establishment for the two species was predicted to move further north when climate was scaled using three Global Circulation Models (GCMs), indicating a possible northward expansion of B. eriopoda. Our results suggest that recruitment by seed may be an important process in determining, at least in part, the geographic distribution of these two species. Changes in climate that affect establishment constraints could result in shifts of species dominance that may or may not be accompanied by changes in species composition.