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Changing precipitation patterns alter plant community dynamics and succession in an ex-arable grassland

Morecroft, M. D., Masters, G. J., Brown, V. K., Clarke, I. P., Taylor, M. E. and Whitehouse, A. T. (2004) Changing precipitation patterns alter plant community dynamics and succession in an ex-arable grassland. Functional Ecology, 18 (5). pp. 648-655. ISSN 0269-8463

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Abstract/Summary

1. Changes in the frequency of extreme events, such as droughts, may be one of the most significant impacts of climate change for ecosystems. Models predict more frequent summer droughts in much of England: this paper investigates the impact on different types of plants in an ex-arable grassland community. 2. A long-term experiment simulated increased and decreased summer precipitation. Substantial interannual variation allowed the effects of summer drought to be tested in combination with wet and dry weather in other seasons. This is important, as climate models predict increased winter precipitation. 3. Total cover abundance in early summer increased with increasing water supply in the previous summer; there was no effect of winter precipitation. Productivity is therefore likely to decrease with more frequent summer droughts, with no mitigating effect of wetter winters. 4. The percentage cover of perennial grasses declined during a natural drought in 1995-97; this was exacerbated by the experimental drought treatment and reduced by supplemented rainfall. Simultaneously, short-lived ruderal species increased; this was greatest in drought treatments and least with supplemented rainfall. 4. These trends were subsequently reversed during several years of unusually wet weather, with perennial grasses increasing and short-lived forbs decreasing. This occurred even in experimentally droughted plots, and we propose that it resulted from rapid coverage of gaps during wet autumns and winters. 6. Deep-rooted species generally proved to be more drought resistant, but there were exceptions. 7. We conclude that increased frequency of summer droughts could have serious implications for the establishment and successional development of ex-arable grasslands. Increased winter precipitation would moderate the impact on species composition, but not on productivity.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
ID Code:8922
Uncontrolled Keywords:climate change, drought, precipitation deficit, succession, vegetation, CALCAREOUS GRASSLAND, GRAZING MANAGEMENT, INSECT HERBIVORY, CLIMATE-CHANGE, VEGETATION, DROUGHT, BEAUV

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