Ecosystem and Community Responses to Rainfall Manipulations in Shrublands Depends on Dominant Vegetation Cover

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Ellen H Esch1, David Lipson2, John B Kim3 and Elsa E Cleland1, (1)University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States, (2)San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, United States, (3)USDA Forest Service, Vallejo, CA, United States
Southern California is predicted to face decreasing precipitation with increased interannual variability in the coming century. Native shrublands in this area are increasingly invaded by exotic annual grasses, though invasion dynamics can vary by rainfall scenario, with wet years generally associated with high invasion pressure. Interplay between rainfall and invasion scenarios can influence carbon stocks and community composition. Here we asked how invasion alters ecosystem and community responses in drought versus high rainfall scenarios, as quantified by community identity, biomass production, and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). To do this, we performed a rainfall manipulation experiment with paired plots dominated either by native shrubs or exotic herbaceous species, subjected to treatments of 50%, 100%, or 150% of ambient rainfall. The study site was located in a coastal sage scrub ecosystem, with patches dominated by native shrubs and exotic grasses located in San Diego County, USA.

During two growing seasons, we found that native, herbaceous biomass production was significantly affected by rainfall treatment (p<0.05 for both years), though was not affected by dominant community composition. Photosynthetic biomass production of shrub species also varied by treatment (p=0.035). Exotic biomass production showed a significant interaction between dominant community composition and rainfall treatment, and both individual effects (p<0.001 for all). NDVI showed similar results, but also indicated the importance of rainfall timing on overall biomass production between years. Community composition data showed certain species, of both native and exotic identities, segregating by treatment. These results indicate that exotic species are more sensitive to rainfall, and that increased rainfall may promote greater carbon storage in annual dominated communities when compared to shrub dominated communities in high rainfall years, but with drought, this trend is reversed.