Effects of simulated daily precipitation patterns on annual plant populations depend on life stage and climatic region
Research Group Plant Ecology and Nature Conservation, University of Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, 14469 Potsdam, Germany
BMC Ecology 2008, 8:4 doi:10.1186/1472-6785-8-4Published: 27 March 2008
To improve the understanding of consequences of climate change for annual plant communities, I used a detailed, grid-based model that simulates the effect of daily rainfall variability on individual plants in five climatic regions on a gradient from 100 to 800 mm mean annual precipitation (MAP). The model explicitly considers moisture storage in the soil. I manipulated daily rainfall variability by changing the daily mean rain (DMR, rain volume on rainy days averaged across years for each day of the year) by ± 20%. At the same time I adjusted intervals appropriately between rainy days for keeping the mean annual volume constant. In factorial combination with changing DMR I also changed MAP by ± 20%.
Increasing MAP generally increased water availability, establishment, and peak shoot biomass. Increasing DMR increased the time that water was continuously available to plants in the upper 15 to 30 cm of the soil (longest wet period, LWP). The effect of DMR diminished with increasing humidity of the climate. An interaction between water availability and density-dependent germination increased the establishment of seedlings in the arid region, but in the more humid regions the establishment of seedlings decreased with increasing DMR. As plants matured, competition among individuals and their productivity increased, but the size of these effects decreased with the humidity of the regions. Therefore, peak shoot biomass generally increased with increasing DMR but the effect size diminished from the semiarid to the mesic Mediterranean region. Increasing DMR reduced via LWP the annual variability of biomass in the semiarid and dry Mediterranean regions.
More rainstorms (greater DMR) increased the recharge of soil water reservoirs in more arid sites with consequences for germination, establishment, productivity, and population persistence. The order of magnitudes of DMR and MAP overlapped partially so that their combined effect is important for projections of climate change effects on annual vegetation.