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Grassland to shrubland state transitions enhance carbon sequestration in the northern Chihuahuan DesertAuthor(s): M. D. Petrie; S. L. Collins; A. M. Swann; P. L. Ford; M. E. Litvak
Source: Global Change Biology. 21: 1226-1235.
Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Rocky Mountain Research Station
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DescriptionThe replacement of native C4-dominated grassland by C3-dominated shrubland is considered an ecological state transition where different ecological communities can exist under similar environmental conditions. These state transitions are occurring globally, and may be exacerbated by climate change. One consequence of the global increase in woody vegetation may be enhanced ecosystem carbon sequestration, although the responses of arid and semiarid ecosystems may be highly variable. During a drier than average period from 2007 to 2011 in the northern Chihuahuan Desert, we found established shrubland to sequester 49 g C m-2 yr-1 on average, while nearby native C4 grassland was a net source of 31 g C m-2 yr-1 over this same period. Differences in C exchange between these ecosystems were pronounced - grassland had similar productivity compared to shrubland but experienced higher C efflux via ecosystem respiration, while shrubland was a consistent C sink because of a longer growing season and lower ecosystem respiration. At daily timescales, rates of carbon exchange were more sensitive to soil moisture variation in grassland than shrubland, such that grassland had a net uptake of C when wet but lost C when dry. Thus, even under unfavorable, drier than average climate conditions, the state transition from grassland to shrubland resulted in a substantial increase in terrestrial C sequestration. These results illustrate the inherent tradeoffs in quantifying ecosystem services that result from ecological state transitions, such as shrub encroachment. In this case, the deleterious changes to ecosystem services often linked to grassland to shrubland state transitions may at least be partially offset by increased ecosystem carbon sequestration.
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CitationPetrie, M. D.; Collins, S. L.; Swann, A. M.; Ford, P. L.; Litvak, M. E. 2015. Grassland to shrubland state transitions enhance carbon sequestration in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Global Change Biology. 21: 1226-1235.
Keywordscarbon sequestration, Chihuahuan Desert, creosotebush shrubland, desert grassland, ecological state transition, ecosystem services
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