Articles | Volume 13, issue 2
Biogeosciences, 13, 425–439, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-13-425-2016
Biogeosciences, 13, 425–439, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-13-425-2016

Research article 21 Jan 2016

Research article | 21 Jan 2016

Precipitation legacy effects on dryland ecosystem carbon fluxes: direction, magnitude and biogeochemical carryovers

W. Shen1, G. D. Jenerette2, D. Hui3, and R. L. Scott4 W. Shen et al.
  • 1Center for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, South China Botanical Garden, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, 510650, China
  • 2Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, Center for Conservation Biology, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521, USA
  • 3Department of Biological Sciences, Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN 37209, USA
  • 4USDA Agricultural Research Service, Southwest Watershed Research Center, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA

Abstract. The precipitation legacy effect, defined as the impact of historical precipitation (PPT) on extant ecosystem dynamics, has been recognized as an important driver in shaping the temporal variability of dryland aboveground net primary production (ANPP) and soil respiration. How the PPT legacy influences whole ecosystem-level carbon (C) fluxes has rarely been quantitatively assessed, particularly at longer temporal scales. We parameterized a process-based ecosystem model to a semiarid savanna ecosystem in the southwestern USA, calibrated and evaluated the model performance based on 7 years of eddy-covariance measurements, and conducted two sets of simulation experiments to assess interdecadal and interannual PPT legacy effects over a 30-year simulation period. The results showed that decreasing the previous period/year PPT (dry legacy) always increased subsequent net ecosystem production (NEP) whereas increasing the previous period/year PPT (wet legacy) decreased NEP. The simulated dry-legacy impacts mostly increased subsequent gross ecosystem production (GEP) and reduced ecosystem respiration (Re), but the wet legacy mostly reduced GEP and increased Re. Although the direction and magnitude of GEP and Re responses to the simulated dry and wet legacies were influenced by both the previous and current PPT conditions, the NEP responses were predominantly determined by the previous PPT characteristics including rainfall amount, seasonality and event size distribution. Larger PPT difference between periods/years resulted in larger legacy impacts, with dry legacies fostering more C sequestration and wet legacies more C release. The carryover of soil N between periods/years was mainly responsible for the GEP responses, while the carryovers of plant biomass, litter and soil organic matter were mainly responsible for the Re responses. These simulation results suggest that previous PPT conditions can exert substantial legacy impacts on current ecosystem C balance, which should be taken into account while assessing the response of dryland ecosystem C dynamics to future PPT regime changes.

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Short summary
This simulation study found that dry legacy imposed positive impacts on net ecosystem production (NEP) whereas wet legacy had negative impacts on NEP, indicating that dry legacy can foster more C sequestration and wet legacy more C release. The carryover of soil nitrogen was mainly responsible for the gross ecosystem production (GEP) responses, while the carryovers of plant biomass, litter and soil organic matter were mainly responsible for the ecosystem respiration (Re) responses.
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