Predicted changes in regional precipitation patterns and soil moisture caused by anthropogenic trace gas emissions may affect the distribution and abundance of woody plants in arid and semiarid regions. To test the response of woody plants to potential changes in precipitation regimes, we manipulated summer and winter precipitation on plots that contained seedlings of Quercus emoryi Torr. (Emory oak), the dominant tree in oak savannas of the southwestern United States. Throughout the growing season, we monitored seedling survival and physiology (predawn leaf water potential, midday instantaneous gas exchange, and leaf carbon isotope discrimination). Seedling survival and physiological performance differed little between treatments, which embodied 50% changes to quantities of summer and winter precipitation, and encompassed a continuum of precipitation from 359 mm · year−1 to 846 mm · year−1. However, survival and physiological performance of seedlings were negatively impacted by seasonal environmental conditions common to all treatments, especially during the annual pre-'monsoon' drought. Seedling predawn leaf water potentials, net CO2 assimilation, and stomatal conductance indicate that growing conditions for Q. emoryi seedlings at this site are generally restricted to periods with adequate soil moisture (i.e., April and August). Results contrast with an assumption implicit to the "two-layer" soil water resource partitioning hypothesis that woody plants in all life history stages are more dependent upon winter than summer precipitation. In fact, summer precipitation appears more important than winter precipitation for Q. emoryi seedling recruitment and growth.
Weltzin, Jake F.; Snyder, Keirith A.; and Williams, David G.
"Experimental manipulations of precipitation seasonality: effects on oak (Quercus) seedling demography and physiology,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 61
, Article 10.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol61/iss4/10