Sensitivity of primary production to precipitation across the United States

Gregory E. Maurer, Alesia J. Hallmark, Renée F. Brown, Osvaldo E. Sala, Scott L. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Primary production, a key regulator of the global carbon cycle, is highly responsive to variations in climate. Yet, a detailed, continental-scale risk assessment of climate-related impacts on primary production is lacking. We combined 16 years of MODIS NDVI data, a remotely sensed proxy for primary production, with observations from 1218 climate stations to derive values of ecosystem sensitivity to precipitation and aridity. For the first time, we produced an empirically-derived map of ecosystem sensitivity to climate across the conterminous United States. Over this 16-year period, annual primary production values were most sensitive to precipitation and aridity in dryland and grassland ecosystems. Century-long trends measured at the climate stations showed intensifying aridity and climatic variability in many of these sensitive regions. Dryland ecosystems in the western US may be particularly vulnerable to reductions in primary production and consequent degradation of ecosystem services as climate change and variability increase in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-536
Number of pages10
JournalEcology letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Drought
  • ecosystem function
  • interannual variability
  • photosynthesis
  • remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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