The purpose of this project is to test the hypothesis that the smallest 50% of precipitation events during the monsoon season affect microbial functioning and grassland productivity in mixed grasslands of B.eriopoda and B. gracilis at the SNWR. At the SNWR, the summer monsoon season accounts for 60% of total annual precipitation and drives the majority of vegetation productivity during the year; the largest 25% of precipitation events account for the majority of this precipitation. I predict that important ecological variables such as nutrient and soil moisture availability are disproportionately influenced by smaller events. The proposed project will help tease apart the importance of precipitation event classes on nutrient availability and grassland aboveground net primary production (ANPP). This research will also provide a basis for understanding how increased aridity in the U.S. southwest due to increasing global surface temperature and altered precipitation could affect grassland communities at the SNWR.
We will implement 10 open plots (control) and 10 precipitation exclosure plots(treatment; 20 total plots) at a mixed blue and black grama grassland site at the SNWR. In this experiment, treatment plots will only receive the largest 50% of precipitation events. This will maintain statistically similar total precipitation between control and treatment plots because the smallest 50% of events have an insignificant effect on total seasonal precipitation. How these small events are linked to microbial activity and vegetation productivity is still very much unknown. I predict that soil microbial activity and nutrient availability will differ between control and treatment plots and will result in differing vegetation ANPP between them. These effects may become more distinct as time progresses, which is the reason for conducting this research for a series of monsoon seasons.
Existing precipitation exclosures (2.45 m x 2.45 m) will be employed at the mixed grassland site. We will implement 20 total plots (10 control, 10 treatment; approx. 500 m2 total area). Temporary site infrastructure will include 10 precipitation exclosures, a water tank (1100 gal.) and soil moisture probes. This infrastructure currently exists at the mixed grassland site and will be adopted from Michell Thomey's project entitled, "Soil moisture extremes and soil water dynamics across a semiarid grassland ecotone."
Precipitation is the only independent variable in this experiment. Using precipitation exclosures, I will remove all ambient precipitation from treatment plots from DOY 182-273. Ambient daily precipitation thatexceeds the estimated 50% threshold will be delivered to the plots within 24 hours of an event. Delivered precipitation will be adjusted for atmospheric demand differences.
Dependent variables in this experiment are vegetation ANPP, soil nitrogen content, soil enzymatic activityand soil moisture content. Vegetation biomass will be collected from the sites on DOY 181 and 274. Soil enzymatic activity will be determined approximately 4 times per monsoon season using plot soil samples. Soil nitrogen content will be measured under vegetation using nitrogen probes. Volumetric soil moisture content [m3 m-3] will be measured continuously using soil moisture probes (30 cm depth).