Plant Functional Group Composition Modifies the Effects of Precipitation Change on Grassland Ecosystem Function

Ellen L. Fry, Pete Manning, David G.P. Allen, Alex Hurst, Georg Everwand, Martin Rimmler, Sally A. Power

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

65 Citations (Scopus)


Temperate grassland ecosystems face a future of precipitation change, which can alter community composition and ecosystem functions through reduced soil moisture and waterlogging. There is evidence that functionally diverse plant communities contain a wider range of water use and resource capture strategies, resulting in greater resistance of ecosystem function to precipitation change. To investigate this interaction between composition and precipitation change we performed a field experiment for three years in successional grassland in southern England. This consisted of two treatments. The first, precipitation change, simulated end of century predictions, and consisted of a summer drought phase alongside winter rainfall addition. The second, functional group identity, divided the plant community into three groups based on their functional traits- broadly described as perennials, caespitose grasses and annuals- and removed these groups in a factorial design. Ecosystem functions related to C, N and water cycling were measured regularly. Effects of functional groupidentity were apparent, with the dominant trend being that process rates were higher under control conditions where a range of perennial species were present. E.g. litter decomposition rates were significantly higher in plots containing several perennial species, the group with the highest average leaf N content. Process rates were also very strongly affected by the precipitation change treatmentwhen perennial plant species were dominant, but not where the community contained a high abundance of annual species and caespitose grasses. This contrasting response could be attributable to differing rooting patterns (shallower structures under annual plants, and deeper roots under perennials) and faster nutrient uptake in annuals compared to perennials. Our results indicate that precipitation change will have a smaller effect on key process rates in grasslandscontaining a range of perennial and annual species, and that maintaining the presence of key functional groups should be a crucial consideration in future grassland management.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere57027
JournalPLoS One
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2013


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