The sensitivity of carbon exchanges in Great Plains grasslands to precipitation variability

M. D. Petrie, N. A. Brunsell, R. Vargas, S. L. Collins, L. B. Flanagan, N. P. Hanan, M. E. Litvak, A. E. Suyker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


In the Great Plains, grassland carbon dynamics differ across broad gradients of precipitation and temperature, yet finer-scale variation in these variables may also affect grassland processes. Despite the importance of grasslands, there is little information on how fine-scale relationships compare between them regionally. We compared grassland C exchanges, energy partitioning and precipitation variability in eight sites in the eastern and western Great Plains using eddy covariance and meteorological data. During our study, both eastern and western grasslands varied between an average net carbon sink and a net source. Eastern grasslands had a moderate vapor pressure deficit (VPD = 0.95 kPa) and high growing season gross primary productivity (GPP = 1010 ± 218 g C m-2 yr-1). Western grasslands had a growing season with higher VPD (1.43 kPa) and lower GPP (360 ± 127 g C m-2 yr-1). Western grasslands were sensitive to precipitation at daily timescales, whereas eastern grasslands were sensitive at monthly and seasonal timescales. Our results support the expectation that C exchanges in these grasslands differ as a result of varying precipitation regimes. Because eastern grasslands are less influenced by short-term variability in rainfall than western grasslands, the effects of precipitation change are likely to be more predictable in eastern grasslands because the timescales of variability that must be resolved are relatively longer. We postulate increasing regional heterogeneity in grassland C exchanges in the Great Plains in coming decades.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)280-294
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Great Plains
  • carbon cycling
  • grasslands
  • precipitation variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Forestry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Palaeontology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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