Thermography captures the differential sensitivity of dryland functional types to changes in rainfall event timing and magnitude

Mostafa Javadian, Russell L. Scott, Joel A. Biederman, Fangyue Zhang, Joshua B. Fisher, Sasha C. Reed, Daniel L. Potts, Miguel L. Villarreal, Andrew F. Feldman, William K. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drylands of the southwestern United States are rapidly warming, and rainfall is becoming less frequent and more intense, with major yet poorly understood implications for ecosystem structure and function. Thermography-based estimates of plant temperature can be integrated with air temperature to infer changes in plant physiology and response to climate change. However, very few studies have evaluated plant temperature dynamics at high spatiotemporal resolution in rainfall pulse-driven dryland ecosystems. We address this gap by incorporating high-frequency thermal imaging into a field-based precipitation manipulation experiment in a semi-arid grassland to investigate the impacts of rainfall temporal repackaging. All other factors held constant, we found that fewer/larger precipitation events led to cooler plant temperatures (1.4°C) compared to that of many/smaller precipitation events. Perennials, in particular, were 2.5°C cooler than annuals under the fewest/largest treatment. We show these patterns were driven by: increased and consistent soil moisture availability in the deeper soil layers in the fewest/largest treatment; and deeper roots of perennials providing access to deeper plant available water. Our findings highlight the potential for high spatiotemporal resolution thermography to quantify the differential sensitivity of plant functional groups to soil water availability. Detecting these sensitivities is vital to understanding the ecohydrological implications of hydroclimate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-126
Number of pages13
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • plant functional types
  • plant temperature
  • rainfall repackaging
  • root growth
  • thermal infrared

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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