The efficiency of a terrestrial ecosystem to use rainfall in production is critical in regulating the ecological functions of the earth system under global change. However, it remains unclear how rain use efficiency (RUE) will be altered by changes in climate and human activities such as biofuel harvest. In this study, we used RUE data from a long-term experiment in a tallgrass prairie to analyze the effects of warming and biofuel harvest (clipping). From 2000 to 2011, experimental warming enhanced RUE in most years, with larger positive effects in normal and wet than dry hydrological years. Clipping decreased RUE in dry and normal hydrological years, but had no impact on RUE in wet years. The observed RUE responses resulted from treatment-induced changes in both biologically ineffective (i.e., runoff and soil evaporation) and effective (i.e., transpiration) parts of precipitation. For example, litter cover was increased in warming plots, but reduced by clipping, leading to negative and positive effects on runoff and soil evaporation, respectively. The dominance of C4 species, which usually have higher water use efficiency than C3 species, was enhanced by warming, but reduced by clipping. Moreover, RUE was positively correlated with ratios of rainfall in the late growing season (June-August), when the growth of C4 plants was most active, relative to that in the other seasons. Our results indicate that RUE is positively influenced by climate warming, but negatively affected by biofuel harvest in tallgrass prairie of the Great Plains. These findings highlight the important roles of plant community structure and temporal distribution of precipitation in regulating ecosystem RUE.
- Biofuel harvest
- Great Plains
- Rain use efficiency
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Waste Management and Disposal