skip to main content

Title: Bridging the Divide: Linking Genomics to Ecosystem Responses to Climate Change: Final Report

Over the project period, we have addressed the following objectives: 1) assess the effects of altered precipitation patterns (i.e., increased variability in growing season precipitation) on genetic diversity of the dominant C4 grass species, Andropogon gerardii, and 2) experimentally assess the impacts of extreme climatic events (heat wave, drought) on responses of the dominant C4 grasses, A. gerardii and Sorghastrum nutans, and the consequences of these response for community and ecosystem structure and function. Below is a summary of how we have addressed these objectives. Objective 1 After ten years of altered precipitation, we found the number of genotypes of A. gerardii was significantly reduced compared to the ambient precipitation treatments (Avolio et al., 2013a). Although genotype number was reduced, the remaining genotypes were less related to one another indicating that the altered precipitation treatment was selecting for increasingly dissimilar genomes (based on mean pairwise Dice distance among individuals). For the four key genotypes that displayed differential abundances depending on the precipitation treatment (G1, G4, and G11 in the altered plots and G2 in the ambient plots), we identified phenotypic differences in the field that could account for ecological sorting (Avolio & Smith, 2013a). The three altered rainfall genotypes alsomore » have very different phenotypic traits in the greenhouse in response to different soil moisture availabilities (Avolio and Smith, 2013c). Two of the genotypes that increased in abundance in the altered precipitation plots had greater allocation to root biomass (G4 and G11), while G1 allocated more biomass aboveground. These phenotypic differences among genotypes suggests that changes in genotypic structure between the altered and the ambient treatments has likely occurred via niche differentiation, driven by changes in soil moisture dynamics (reduced mean, increased variability and changes in the depth distribution of soil moisture) under a more variable precipitation regime, rather than reduced population numbers (A. gerardii tiller densities did not differ between altered and ambient treatments; p = 0.505) or a priori differences in genotype richness (Avolio et al.2013a). This ecological sorting of genotypes, which accounts for 40% of all sampled individuals in the altered plots, is an important legacy of the press chronic climate changes in the RaMPs experiment. Objective 2 In May 2010, we established the Climate Extremes Experiment at the Konza Prairie Biological Station. For the experiment, a gradient of temperatures, ranging from ambient to extreme, were imposed in 2010 and 2011 as a mid-season heat wave under well-watered or severe drought conditions. This study allowed us for the first time to examine species-specific thresholds of responses to climate extremes and assess how these phenotypic responses may impact selection of particular genotypes, with the ultimate goal of linking alterations in individual performance and genetic diversity to ecosystem structure and functioning. We found that tallgrass prairie was resistant to heat waves, but it was not resistant to extreme drought, which reduced aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) below the lowest level measured in this grassland in almost thirty years (Hoover et al. in press(a)). This extreme reduction in ecosystem function was a consequence of reduced productivity of both C4 grasses and C3 forbs. This reduction in biomass of the C4 grasses (Andropogon gerardii and Sorghastrum nutans) was, in part, due to significant reductions in photosynthesis, leaf water potential and productivity with drought in the dominant grasses species, with S. nutans was more sensitive than A. gerardii to drought (Hoover et al. in press(b)). However, the dominant forb was negatively impacted by the drought more than the dominant grasses, and this led to a reordering of species abundances within the plant community. Although this change in community composition persisted post-drought, ANPP recovered completely the year after drought due to rapid demographic responses by the dominant grass, compensating for loss of the dominant forb. Overall, our results show that an extreme reduction in ecosystem function attributable to a climate extreme (e.g., low resistance) does not preclude rapid ecosystem recovery. Given that dominance by a few species is characteristic of most ecosystems, knowledge of the traits of these species and their responses to climate extremes will be key for predicting future ecosystem dynamics and function. In addition, our research suggests that water stress will dominate photosynthetic and productivity responses caused by discrete drought and heat wave events, rather than direct or additive effects of heat stress, with differential sensitivity in these grasses altering future ecosystem function.« less
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Yale University
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC),; USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
Country of Publication:
United States
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; climate change, climate extremes, drought, heat wave, global change, grassland, tallgrass prairie