Vegetation-soil feedbacks and sensitivity of Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem boundaries to climate change

TitleVegetation-soil feedbacks and sensitivity of Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem boundaries to climate change
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsPeters DC, Herrick JE
Conference Name84th Annual Meeting, Ecological Society of America
Date PublishedAugust 8-12, 199
Conference LocationSpokane, WA
ARIS Log Number100291

Geographic distributions of species and ecosystems are predicted to shift with regional and global changes in climate. Our objective was to predict changes in the regional distribution of Chihuahuan desert grasslands using a landscape-scale approach that incorporates vegetation-soil feedbacks. We used a spatially-explicit individual plant-based model to simulate vegetation responses at locations differing in species composition, soils, and climate. The model incorporates feedbacks among vegetation and soil properties and processes that are important to perennial grass establishment and survival. We used the model to predict the landscape and regional locations most likely to shift from shrub- to grass-dominated vegetation in response to changes in climate. Because climate and texture vary at different scales, our results generated a complex mosaic of sensitivity of these ecosystems to climate change. Soil texture was more important than initial soil organic matter content in the shift from shrub to grasses. Feedbacks between soil organic matter and changes in species composition increased the rate of this change. Our results demonstrate the importance of including landscape-scale variability in vegetation and soil processes in predicting ecosystem boundary shifts in response to global climate change.