Is a drought a drought in grasslands? Productivity responses to different types of drought

Charles J.W. Carroll, Ingrid J. Slette, Robert J. Griffin-Nolan, Lauren E. Baur, Ava M. Hoffman, Elsie M. Denton, Jesse E. Gray, Alison K. Post, Melissa K. Johnston, Qiang Yu, Scott L. Collins, Yiqi Luo, Melinda D. Smith, Alan K. Knapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Drought, defined as a marked deficiency of precipitation relative to normal, occurs as periods of below-average precipitation or complete failure of precipitation inputs, and can be limited to a single season or prolonged over multiple years. Grasslands are typically quite sensitive to drought, but there can be substantial variability in the magnitude of loss of ecosystem function. We hypothesized that differences in how drought occurs may contribute to this variability. In four native Great Plains grasslands (three C4- and one C3-dominated) spanning a ~ 500-mm precipitation gradient, we imposed drought for four consecutive years by (1) reducing each rainfall event by 66% during the growing season (chronic drought) or (2) completely excluding rainfall during a shorter portion of the growing season (intense drought). The drought treatments were similar in magnitude but differed in the following characteristics: event number, event size and length of dry periods. We observed consistent drought-induced reductions (28–37%) in aboveground net primary production (ANPP) only in the C4-dominated grasslands. In general, intense drought reduced ANPP more than chronic drought, with little evidence that drought duration altered this pattern. Conversely, belowground net primary production (BNPP) was reduced by drought in all grasslands (32–64%), with BNPP reductions greater in intense vs. chronic drought treatments in the most mesic grassland. We conclude that grassland productivity responses to drought did not strongly differ between these two types of drought, but when differences existed, intense drought consistently reduced function more than chronic drought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1017-1026
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Biomass
  • Drought
  • Drought attributes
  • Grasslands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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