Theme 1: Rangeland/Grassland Ecology--Oral Sessions

Description

The increase in abundance and density of woody plants in herbaceous ecosystems (i.e. bush encroachment) is occurring globally and is driven by reduced fire frequency, climate change, and the utilization of deeper, more reliable soil water by woody plants. Thus, a comprehensive understanding of the physiological processes through which woody and herbaceous plants use water will provide greater insight into the mechanisms of bush encroachment, as well as the trajectory of encroachment in a changing climate. Our objective was to assess how experimental changes in water availability and fire frequency impact belowground water-use traits in Cornus drummondii, the primary encroaching shrub within North American tallgrass prairies, and Andropogon gerardii, a dominant C4 grass. Shelters that reduced precipitation by 50% (drought) and 0% (control) were built over mature shrubs growing in sites that were burned at 1-year and 4-year frequencies. We assessed the water transport capability of shrubs and grasses growing in each treatment by measuring the maximum hydraulic conductance (Kmax) of entire root systems. We also assessed the vulnerability of shrub root segments to loss of hydraulic function by measuring the pressure at which 50% of the maximum hydraulic conductivity is lost (P50). Grass and shrub roots had opposite responses to drought and these patterns varied with fire treatment. Grasses growing in drought plots had lower root Kmax than control grasses. Conversely, root Kmax did not differ significantly between treatments in shrubs. However, drought shrub roots were less vulnerable to water stress than control roots (P50=-1.5 and -0.20 MPa, respectively). These results suggest that the ability of grass roots to use water declined with drought, while the ability of shrub roots to resist water stress increased with drought. Future work should investigate whether these drought responses are associated with altered root growth patterns.

Share

COinS
 

Hydraulic Responses of Shrubs and Grasses to Fire Frequency and Drought in a Tallgrass Prairie Experiencing Bush Encroachment

The increase in abundance and density of woody plants in herbaceous ecosystems (i.e. bush encroachment) is occurring globally and is driven by reduced fire frequency, climate change, and the utilization of deeper, more reliable soil water by woody plants. Thus, a comprehensive understanding of the physiological processes through which woody and herbaceous plants use water will provide greater insight into the mechanisms of bush encroachment, as well as the trajectory of encroachment in a changing climate. Our objective was to assess how experimental changes in water availability and fire frequency impact belowground water-use traits in Cornus drummondii, the primary encroaching shrub within North American tallgrass prairies, and Andropogon gerardii, a dominant C4 grass. Shelters that reduced precipitation by 50% (drought) and 0% (control) were built over mature shrubs growing in sites that were burned at 1-year and 4-year frequencies. We assessed the water transport capability of shrubs and grasses growing in each treatment by measuring the maximum hydraulic conductance (Kmax) of entire root systems. We also assessed the vulnerability of shrub root segments to loss of hydraulic function by measuring the pressure at which 50% of the maximum hydraulic conductivity is lost (P50). Grass and shrub roots had opposite responses to drought and these patterns varied with fire treatment. Grasses growing in drought plots had lower root Kmax than control grasses. Conversely, root Kmax did not differ significantly between treatments in shrubs. However, drought shrub roots were less vulnerable to water stress than control roots (P50=-1.5 and -0.20 MPa, respectively). These results suggest that the ability of grass roots to use water declined with drought, while the ability of shrub roots to resist water stress increased with drought. Future work should investigate whether these drought responses are associated with altered root growth patterns.