Main content area

Variations in Anarthrophyllum rigidum radial growth, NDVI and ecosystem productivity in the Patagonian shrubby steppes

Srur, Ana M., Villalba, Ricardo, Baldi, Germán
Plant ecology 2011 v.212 no.11 pp. 1841-1854
climate, ecosystems, grazing, growing season, photosynthetically active radiation, sheep, shrubs, steppes, time series analysis, variance, vegetation, winter, woody plants
The lack of long-term records of productivity is a critical limitation to the study of ecosystem dynamics. Annual rings, a measure of growth in woody species, are a useful tool to document ecosystem dynamics. Time series of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) provide estimates of ecosystem productivity through satellite-derived data on the fraction of photosynthetic active radiation absorbed by vegetation. In the Patagonian steppes, we relate changes in NDVI to interannual variations in the radial growth of the shrub Anarthrophyllum rigidum. A widely distributed network of 15 ring-width chronologies of A. rigidum was used to estimate changes in NDVI across the Patagonia steppe (35°–50°S). In most sites, interannual variations in shrub growth and NDVI are regulated by winter precipitation. The water accumulated in the soil during winter is used by A. rigidum during the growing season, concurrent with the maximum NDVI values. At 10 from the 15 selected sites, variations in the radial growth of A. rigidum explained between 23 and 62% of the total variance in seasonal NDVI, suggesting that the A. rigidum growth at some sites provides good estimates of productivity in the Patagonian shrubby steppes during the growing season. However, we were unable to determine clear relationships between radial growth and NDVI at high-elevation mountainous sites or where intensive grazing by sheep masked the effect of climate variability on shrub growth. We conclude that dendrochronological methods can complement other estimates to reconstruct variations of productivity, supplementing and extending the few short records available in the Patagonian steppe.