Climate change predictions include warming and drying trends, which are expected to be particularly pronounced in the southwestern United States. In this region, grassland dynamics are tightly linked to available moisture, yet it has proven difficult to resolve what aspects of climate drive vegetation change.
Here, we combine climate and soil properties with a mechanistic soil water model to explain temporal fluctuations in perennial grass cover, quantify where and the degree to which incorporating soil water dynamics enhances our ability to understand temporal patterns, and explore the potential consequences of climate change by assessing future trajectories of important climate and soil water variables.
Our analyses focused on long-term (20 to 56 years) perennial grass dynamics across the Colorado Plateau, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Desert regions. We found that climate variability has negative effects on grass cover, and that precipitation subsidies that extend growing seasons are beneficial. Projections of water balance variables under climate change indicate that conditions that currently support perennial grasses may be less common in the future, especially in the Chihuahuan Desert and Colorado Plateau.
This product was co-funded by multiple Landscape Conservation Cooperatives: Desert LCC and the Southern Rockies LCC.
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