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Woody plant encroachment is affecting vegetation composition in arid grasslands worldwide and has been associated with a number of environmental drivers and feedbacks. It has been argued that the relatively abrupt character (both in space and in time) of grassland-to-shrubland transitions observed in many drylands around the world might result from positive feedbacks in the underlying ecosystem dynamics. In the case of the Chihuahuan Desert, we show that one such feedback could emerge from interactions between vegetation and microclimate conditions. Shrub establishment modifies surface energy fluxes, causing an increase in nighttime air temperature, particularly during wintertime. The resulting change in winter...