Plant-soil feedbacks and the reversal of desertification with climate change

TitlePlant-soil feedbacks and the reversal of desertification with climate change
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsPeters DC, Yao J, Anderson JP, Sala O.E
Conference NameInternational Rangeland Congress
Series TitleIX
Date Published04/2011
PublisherInternational Rangeland Congress
Conference LocationRosario, Argentina
ARIS Log Number264996
KeywordsChihuahuan Desert, grasslands, precipitation, regime shift, shrublands
AbstractOur objective was to provide a conceptual framework for perennial grass recovery in a series of wet years, which includes both plant-soil feedbacks that increase available water to grasses and effects of precipitation on a sequence of recovery-related processes. We tested hypotheses based on this framework for grasslands and shrublands in the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest desert in North America. Results show that a sequence of 5 wet years following 14 years of variable rainfall increased production in resource conserving ecosystem types greater than predicted based on rainfall alone. The increase in production was primarily by herbaceous plants, which captured water locally to increase plant available water to both existing plants and new recruits. The sequence of wet years allowed a series of linked plant processes to occur that resulted in the establishment and survival of perennial grasses and forbs. We predict that a continued series of wet years will maintain the herbaceous component of these systems, and may act to reverse desertification on degraded shrublands, and to maintain perennial grasslands without management inputs. Degraded shrublands located on slopes susceptible to runoff of water responded linearly to annual precipitation in multiple wet years, and are expected to be resistant to a shift back towards grasslands under a directional increase in precipitation.