Plants reverse warming effect on ecosystem water balance

Erika S. Zavaleta, Brian D. Thomas, Nona R. Chiariello, Gregory P. Asner, M. Rebecca Shaw, Christopher B. Field

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


Models predict that global warming may increase aridity in water-limited ecosystems by accelerating evapotranspiration. We show that interactions between warming and the dominant biota in a grassland ecosystem produced the reverse effect. In a 2-year field experiment, simulated warming increased spring soil moisture by 5-10% under both ambient and elevated CO2. Warming also accelerated the decline of canopy greenness (normalized difference vegetation index) each spring by 11-17% by inducing earlier plant senescence. Lower transpirational water losses resulting from this earlier senescence provide a mechanism for the unexpected rise in soil moisture. Our findings illustrate the potential for organism-environment interactions to modify the direction as well as the magnitude of global change effects on ecosystem functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9892-9893
Number of pages2
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
StatePublished - Aug 19 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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