Extreme precipitation patterns and reductions of terrestrial ecosystem production across biomes

Yongguang Zhang, M. Susan Moran, Mark A. Nearing, Guillermo E. Ponce Campos, Alfredo R. Huete, Anthony R. Buda, David D. Bosch, Stacey A. Gunter, Stanley G. Kitchen, W. Henry McNab, Jack A. Morgan, Mitchel P. McClaran, Diane S. Montoya, Debra P.C. Peters, Patrick J. Starks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Precipitation regimes are predicted to shift to more extreme patterns that are characterized by more heavy rainfall events and longer dry intervals, yet their ecological impacts on vegetation production remain uncertain across biomes in natural climatic conditions. This in situ study investigated the effects of these climatic conditions on aboveground net primary production (ANPP) by combining a greenness index from satellite measurements and climatic records during 2000-2009 from 11 long-term experimental sites in multiple biomes and climates. Results showed that extreme precipitation patterns decreased the sensitivity of ANPP to total annual precipitation (PT) at the regional and decadal scales, leading to decreased rain use efficiency (RUE; by 20% on average) across biomes. Relative decreases in ANPP were greatest for arid grassland (16%) and Mediterranean forest (20%) and less for mesic grassland and temperate forest (3%). The cooccurrence of heavy rainfall events and longer dry intervals caused greater water stress conditions that resulted in reduced vegetation production. A new generalized model was developed using a function of both PT and an index of precipitation extremes and improved predictions of the sensitivity of ANPP to changes in precipitation patterns. Our results suggest that extreme precipitation patterns have substantially negative effects on vegetation production across biomes and are as important as P T. With predictions of more extreme weather events, forecasts of ecosystem production should consider these nonlinear responses to altered extreme precipitation patterns associated with climate change. Key Points Extreme rainfall events reduced the sensitivity of ANPP to total annual rainfallCo-occurrence of intense rainfall and longer dry interval reduced greater ANPPA new model improved predictions of ANPP by accounting for extreme patterns

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)148-157
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2013


  • ANPP
  • biomes
  • climate change
  • extreme precipitation patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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