Main content area

Growth and biomass allocation of shrub and grass seedlings in response to predicted changes in precipitation seasonality

Perkins, S.R., Owens, M.K.
Plant ecology 2003 v.168 no.1 pp. 107-120
Prosopis glandulosa var. glandulosa, Acacia berlandieri, Acacia greggii, Aristida purpurea, Setaria (Poaceae), Nassella leucotricha, shrubs, grasses, savannas, arid lands, rangelands, dry matter partitioning, seedling growth, rain, seasonal variation, roots, shoots, leaves, stems, defoliation, light, shade, Texas
Anthropogenic emissions contribute to an annual 0.5% increase in atmospheric CO2. As global CO2 levels increase, regional precipitation patterns will likely be altered. Our primary objective was to determine whether a reduction in summer precipitation or an increase in winter/spring precipitation, predicted by global climate change models, will favor the establishment of C4 grasses or C3 shrubs in southern savannas. Our secondary objective was to determine how defoliation and microsite light availability interact with altered precipitation regimes to influence grass and shrub seedling growth and biomass allocation patterns. Seedlings of 3 shrub species (Prosopis glandulosa var. glandulosa, Acacia berlandieri, and A. greggii var. wrightii) and 3 grass species (Aristida purpurea var. wrightii, Setaria texana, and Stipa leucotricha) were watered based on probable changes in precipitation in a CO2 enriched atmosphere (0.6, 0.8, and 1.0 current ambient summer precipitation and 1.0, 1.15, and 1.30 current winter/spring precipitation). Seedlings were defoliated at 3 levels (non-defoliated, single defoliation, and repeated defoliation) within 2 levels of microsite light availability (100 and 50% ambient). Defoliation significantly reduced total shrub and grass seedling biomass. Reducing light availability decreased shrub seedling root:shoot ratio, but total biomass was not significantly affected. Grass seedling biomass and root:shoot ratio decreased when light availability was reduced. Changing the seasonality of precipitation by reducing summer rainfall or increasing winter/spring rainfall did not significantly influence growth or biomass allocation of grass and shrub seedlings in a semiarid savanna. Microsite variations in defoliation intensity and light availability influence seedling growth and biomass allocation more than changing seasonality of precipitation. Shrub and grass seedling establishment and growth on semiarid rangelands are already limited by summer precipitation, so a further reduction as proposed by climate change models will have a limited impact on seedling dynamics.