Subalpine meadows are some of the most ecologically important components of mountain landscapes, and primary productivity is important to the maintenance of meadow functions. Understanding how changes in primary productivity are associated with variability in moisture and temperature will become increasingly important with current and anticipated changes in climate. Our objective was to describe patterns and variability in aboveground live vascular plant biomass in relation to climatic factors. We harvested aboveground biomass at peak growth from four 64-mplots each in xeric, mesic, and hydric meadows annually from 1994 to 2000. Data from nearby weather stations provided independent variables of spring snow water content, snow-free date, and thawing degree days for a cumulative index of available energy. We assembled these climatic variables into a set of mixed effects analysis of covariance models to evaluate their relationships with annual aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), and we used an information theoretic approach to compare the quality of fit among candidate models. ANPP in the xeric meadow was negatively related to snow water content and thawing degree days and in the mesic meadow was negatively related to snow water content. Relationships between ANPP and these 2 covariates in the hydric meadow were not significant. Increasing snow water content may limit ANPP in these meadows if anaerobic conditions delay microbial activity and nutrient availability. Increased thawing degree days may limit ANPP in xeric meadows by prematurely depleting soil moisture. Large within-year variation of ANPP in the hydric meadow limited sensitivity to the climatic variables. These relationships suggest that, under projected warmer and drier conditions, ANPP will increase in mesic meadows but remain unchanged in xeric meadows because declines associated with increased temperatures would offset the increases from decreased snow water content.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics