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In dryland ecosystems, the timing and magnitude of precipitation pulses drive many key ecological processes, notably soil water availability for plants and soil microbiota. Plant available water has frequently been viewed simply as incoming precipitation, yet processes at larger scales drive precipitation pulses, and the subsequent transformation of precipitation pulses to plant available water are complex. We provide an overview of the factors that influence the spatial and temporal availability of water to plants and soil biota using examples from western USA drylands. Large spatial- and temporal-scale drivers of regional precipitation patterns include the position of the jet streams and frontal boundaries, the...