Vegetation structure constrains primary production response to water availability in the patagonian steppe

Laura Yahdjian, Osvaldo E. Sala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Scopus citations


Grassland aboveground net primary production (ANPP) increases linearly with precipitation in space and time, but temporal models relating time series of ANPP and annual precipitation for single sites show lower slopes and regression coefficients than are shown by spatial models. The analysis of several ANPP time series showed lags in the ecosystem response to increased water availability, which may explain the difference between spatial and temporal models. The lags may result from constraints that ecosystems experience after drought. Our objective was to explore the structural constraints of the ANPP response to rainfall variability in a semiarid ecosystem, the Patagonian steppe, in southern Argentina. We designed a 3-yr rainfall manipulation experiment where we decreased water input with rainout shelters during two consecutive years, which included three levels of rainfall interception (30%, 55%, and 80%) and a control. In the third year, we irrigated one-half of the plots of each rainfall-interception treatment. We evaluated the immediate effects of drought on current-year ANPP and the effects of previous-year drought on vegetation recovery after water supplementation. ANPP (g·m-2·yr-1) was linearly related to annual precipitation input (APPT; mm/yr) along the experimental precipitation gradient (ANPP = 0.13 × APPT + 58.3; r2 = 0.34, P < 0.01), and this relationship was mostly accounted for by changes in the ANPP of grasses. Plant density (D; no. individuals/mm2) was related to the precipitation received during the drought period (D = 0.11 × APPT + 18; r2 = 0.39, P < 0.05). The recovery of plants after irrigation was lower for those plots that had experienced experimental drought the previous years relative to controls, and the lags were proportional to the intensity of drought. Therefore, our results suggest that the density of plants may constrain the recovery of vegetation after drought, and these constraints may determine lags that limit the capacity of the ecosystem to take advantage of wet years after dry years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)952-962
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Argentina
  • Lags
  • Patagonia
  • Rainfall manipulations
  • Semiarid ecosystems
  • Temporal models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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