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Does precipitation variability increase from mesic to xeric biomes?



Does precipitation variability increase from mesic to xeric biomes?



Global Ecology and Biogeography 11(2): 143-154



Precipitation variability in five desert (Great Basin Desert scrub, Mohave Desert scrub, Chihuahuan Desert scrub, Sonoran Desert scrub: Lower Colorado Valley Subdivision, and Sonoran Desert scrub: Arizona Upland Subdivision, dominated by Artemisia bigelovii, Larrea tridentata, Cercidium microphyllum and Carnegiea gigantea) and four non-desert (Rocky Mountain and Madrean Montane Conifer Forest, Great Basin Conifer Woodland, Plains and Great Basin Grasslands, Semi-desert Grassland, dominated by Pinus ponderosa, Juniperus monosperma and P. edulis, Bouteloua gracilis, and B. eriopoda and Yucca elata, respectively) biomes that represent a xeric to mesic gradient in the southwestern USA was studied using data from 328 weather stations, for a total of 18 337 station years. Precipitation variability was studied at two temporal scales: among years and among months, and within years. Each of these scales was analysed for annual precipitation, summer precipitation and winter precipitation for a total of 18 separate analyses. Overall, precipitation variability does increase as precipitation decreases. However, there was little support for the generalization that desert precipitation is more variable than precipitation in non-deserts. At most scales, many southwestern American desert biomes are no more variable than non-desert biomes. The level of variability is highly dependent on which desert biome is under study, where in the biome a particular site is located, and what time scale is used to measure variability. Certain desert sites are more variable than non-desert sites, in some cases by as much as five-fold. However, each desert biome includes many sites that are no more variable, across many or all time scales, than sites in the grassland or pine forest biomes. These results emphasize the importance of measuring variability for each study site of interest and caution against extrapolating from a few sites to biomes or gradients in general. Implications for the study of adaptations to environmental variability are discussed.

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Accession: 003718133

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DOI: 10.1046/j.1466-822x.2002.00271.x


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