Warming and Elevated CO2 Interact to Alter Seasonality and Reduce Variability of Soil Water in a Semiarid Grassland

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Global changes that alter soil water availability may have profound effects on semiarid ecosystems. Although both elevated CO2 (eCO2) and warming can alter water availability, often in opposite ways, few studies have measured their combined influence on the amount, timing, and temporal variability of soil water. Here, we ask how free air CO2 enrichment (to 600 ppmv) and infrared warming (+1.5 degrees C day, +3 degrees C night) effects on soil water vary within years and across wet-dry periods in North American mixed-grass prairie. We found that eCO2 and warming interacted to influence soil water and that those interactions varied by season. In the spring, negative effects of warming on soil water largely offset positive effects of eCO2. As the growing season progressed, however, warming reduced soil water primarily (summer) or only (autumn) in plots treated with eCO2. These interactions constrained the combined effect of eCO2 and warming on soil water, which ranged from neutral in spring to positive in autumn. Within seasons, eCO2 increased soil water under drier conditions, and warming decreased soil water under wetter conditions. By increasing soil water under dry conditions, eCO2 also reduced temporal variability in soil water. These temporal patterns explain previously observed plant responses, including reduced leaf area with warming in summer, and delayed senescence with eCO2 plus warming in autumn. They also suggest that eCO2 and warming may favor plant species that grow in autumn, including winter annuals and C3 graminoids, and species able to remain active under the dry conditions moderated by eCO2.


This work was supported by the USDA-ARS Pasture, Forage and Rangeland SystemsProgram, the USDA-CSREES Soil Processes Program (Grant No. 2008-35107-18655), the US DOE Office of Science (Biological and Environmental Research) through the Western Regional Center of the National Institute for Climatic Change Research at Northern Arizona University, and the US NSF (DEB no. 1021559).