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Primary Productivity and Precipitation-Use Efficiency in Mixed-Grass Prairie: A Comparison of Northern and Southern US Sites

Vermeire, Lance T., Heitschmidt, Rod K., Rinella, Matthew J.
Rangeland ecology & management 2009 v.62 no.3 pp. 230
prairies, precipitation, water use efficiency, primary productivity, dry matter accumulation, temporal variation, irrigation rates, functional diversity, ecological function, cool season grasses, warm season grasses, perennials, drought, water stress, botanical composition, Montana, Texas
Precipitation-use efficiency (PUE) is a key determinant of aboveground net primary production (ANPP). We used long-term datasets to contrast ANPP and PUE estimates between northern (southeast Montana) and southern (north Texas) mixed-grass prairies. Effects of varying amounts and temporal distribution of precipitation on PUE were examined at the Montana site, using a rainout shelter and irrigation. Results show that 1) ANPP was 21%% less in Montana than Texas (188 g ·· m⁻⁻² vs. 237 g ·· m⁻⁻²); 2) plant function type (PFT) composition varied between the two study locations, with cool-season perennial grasses (CSPG) dominating in Montana (52%%) and warm-season perennial grasses (WSPG) dominating in Texas (47%%); 3) production dynamics varied between the two sites with 90%% of ANPP completed by 1 July in Montana as compared to 31 August in Texas; 4) average PUE estimates were greater in Montana (0.56 g dry matter ·· m⁻⁻² ·· mm⁻⁻¹ of precipitation) than Texas (0.40 g ·· m⁻⁻² ·· mm⁻⁻¹); and 5) contributions to PUE estimates varied among PFT and location, with CSPG estimates being greater in Montana than Texas (52%% vs. 31%%) and WSPG estimates being greater in Texas than Montana (47%% vs. 27%%). Seasonal droughts and supplemental irrigations at the Montana site substantially altered ANPP, PFT biomass composition, and PUE. Results show PUE was responsive to PFT composition relative to amount and seasonal distribution of precipitation. Therefore, one should expect changes in ANPP and PUE to occur with shifts in precipitation patterns until PFT composition becomes adjusted to the regime.