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Nat Commun. 2015 May 14;6:7148. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8148.

Long-term decline in grassland productivity driven by increasing dryness.

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Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Bozeman, Montana 59715, USA.
Department of Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana 59715, USA.


Increasing aridity and drought severity forecast for many land areas could reduce the land carbon (C) sink. However, with limited long-term direct measures, it is difficult to distinguish direct drying effects from counter effects of CO2 enrichment and nitrogen (N) deposition. Here, we document a >50% decline in production of a native C3 grassland over four decades and assign the forcing and timing to increasing aridity and specifically to declining late-summer rainfall. Analysis of C and N stable isotopes in biomass suggests that enhanced water use efficiency via CO2 enrichment may have slightly ameliorated the productivity decline but that changes in N had no effects. Identical declines in a long-term snow-addition experiment definitively identified increasing late-summer dryness as the cause. Our results demonstrate lasting consequences of recent climate change on grassland production and underscore the importance of understanding past climate-ecosystem coupling to predicting future responses to changing climate.

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