Ecosystem functions are resistant to extreme changes to rainfall regimes in a mesotrophic grassland

Ellen L. Fry, Pete Manning, Sally A. Power

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: Major changes to rainfall regimes are predicted for the future but the effect of such changes on terrestrial ecosystem function is largely unknown. We created a rainfall manipulation experiment to investigate the effects of extreme changes in rainfall regimes on ecosystem functioning in a grassland system. Methods: We applied two rainfall regimes; a prolonged drought treatment (30 % reduction over spring and summer) and drought/downpour treatment (long periods of no rainfall interspersed with downpours), with an ambient control. Both rainfall manipulations included increased winter rainfall. We measured plant community composition, CO2 fluxes and soil nutrient availability. Results: Plant species richness and cover were lower in the drought/downpour treatment, and showed little recovery after the treatment ceased. Ecosystem processes were less affected, possibly due to winter rainfall additions buffering reduced summer rainfall, which saw relatively small soil moisture changes. However, soil extractable P and ecosystem respiration were significantly higher in rainfall change treatments than in the control. Conclusions: This grassland appears fairly resistant, in the short term, to even the more extreme rainfall changes that are predicted for the region, although prolonged study is needed to measure longer-term impacts. Differences in ecosystem responses between the two treatments emphasise the variety of ecosystem responses to changes in both the size and frequency of rainfall events. Given that model predictions are inconsistent there is therefore a need to assess ecosystem function under a range of potential climate change scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-365
Number of pages15
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


  • Ecosystem function
  • Extreme climate change
  • Soil N and P availability
  • Temperate grassland


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