Oecologia, 2004. Paper abstract bibtex
Plant species and functionally related species groups from arid and semiarid habitats vary in their capacity to take up summer precipitation, acquire nitrogen quickly after summer precipitation, and subsequently respond with ecophysiological changes (e.g., water and nitrogen relations, gas exchange). For species that respond ecophysiologically, the use of summer precipitation is generally assumed to affect long-term plant growth and, thus, alter competitive interactions that structure plant communities and determine potential responses to climate change. We assessed ecophysiological and growth responses to large, short-term irrigation pulses over one to three growing seasons for several widespread Great Basin and northern Mojave Desert shrub species: Chrysothamnus nauseosus, Sarcobatus vermiculatus, Atriplex confertifolia, and A. parryi. We compared control and watered plants in nine case studies that encompassed adults of all four species, juveniles for three of the species, and two sites for two of the species. In every comparison, plants used summer water pulses to improve plant water status or increase rates of functioning as indicated by other ecophysiological characters. Species and life history stage responses of ecophysiological parameters were consistent with several previous short-term studies. However, use of summer water pulses did not affect canopy growth in eight out of nine comparisons despite the range of species, growth stages, and site conditions. Summer water pulses affected canopy growth only for C. nauseosus adults. The general lack of growth effects for these species might be due to close proximity of groundwater at these sites, colimitation by nutrients, or inability to respond due to phenological canalization. An understanding of the connections between short-term ecophysiological responses and growth for different habitats and species is critical for determining the significance of summer precipitation for desert community dynamics.