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Dominant plant taxa predict plant productivity responses to CO2 enrichment across precipitation and soil gradients

Philip A. Fay, Beth A. Newingham, H. Wayne Polley, Jack A. Morgan, Daniel R. LeCain, Robert S. Nowak, Stanley D. Smith
AoB plants 2015 v.7 no.plv027 pp. -
aboveground biomass, atmospheric precipitation, carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide enrichment, coarse-textured soils, correlation, deserts, ecosystems, grasslands, leaves, plant communities, prediction, primary productivity, semiarid zones, shrublands, soil water, soil water content, spatial variation, temporal variation, transpiration, xeric regimes
The Earth’s atmosphere will continue to be enriched with carbon dioxide (CO(2)) over the coming century. Carbon dioxide enrichment often reduces leaf transpiration, which in water-limited ecosystems may increase soil water content, change species abundances and increase the productivity of plant communities. The effect of increased soil water on community productivity and community change may be greater in ecosystems with lower precipitation, or on coarser-textured soils, but responses are likely absent in deserts. We tested correlations among yearly increases in soil water content, community change and community plant productivity responses to CO(2) enrichment in experiments in a mesic grassland with fine- to coarse-textured soils, a semi-arid grassland and a xeric shrubland. We found no correlation between CO(2)-caused changes in soil water content and changes in biomass of dominant plant taxa or total community aboveground biomass in either grassland type or on any soil in the mesic grassland (P>0.60). Instead, increases in dominant taxa biomass explained up to 85 % of the increases in total community biomass under CO(2) enrichment. The effect of community change on community productivity was stronger in the semi-arid grassland than in the mesic grassland, where community biomass change on one soil was not correlated with the change in either the soil water content or the dominant taxa. No sustained increases in soil water content or community productivity and no change in dominant plant taxa occurred in the xeric shrubland. Thus, community change was a crucial driver of community productivity responses to CO(2) enrichment in the grasslands, but effects of soil water change on productivity were not evident in yearly responses to CO(2) enrichment. Future research is necessary to isolate and clarify the mechanisms controlling the temporal and spatial variations in the linkages among soil water, community change and plant productivity responses to CO(2) enrichment.