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Phenological Patterns of Chihuahuan Desert Plants in Relation to the Timing of Water Availability

Paul R. Kemp
Journal of Ecology
Vol. 71, No. 2 (Jul., 1983), pp. 427-436
DOI: 10.2307/2259725
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2259725
Page Count: 10
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Phenological Patterns of Chihuahuan Desert Plants in Relation to the Timing of Water Availability
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Abstract

(1) Phenology, density, and cover of plant species occurring in a single Chihuahuan desert habitat were studied for 2 years as a function of habitat moisture with the objective of relating plant species diversity to water partitioning. (2) Much of the temporal variation in growth and phenology between species was correlated with differences in life form and photosynthetic pathway. (3) The annual plant species consisted of a winter-spring group containing only species with the C3 photosynthetic pathway which utilize the moisture from frontal storms of winter, and a summer group containing a large majority of species with the C4 photosynthetic pathway which utilize the moisture from convectional storms of late summer. (4) The perennial plant species consisted of C3 and C4 forbs, C4 grasses, C3 shrubs and CAM shrubs. The C3 forbs showed greatest activity in spring or autumn while the C4 forbs and grasses were most active in the summer and autumn. The C3 shrubs and CAM shrubs were active at various times from spring to autumn and not as dependent as the other groups on available soil moisture. (5) There was above average precipitation in late summer and autumn during the first year of study and an early and prolonged drought in autumn of the second year. Some species of perennial C3 forbs and C4 grasses responded to the abundant precipitation of the first autumn with increased density or cover in the second year, but there was little change in the shrub species. The drought in the second year caused a reduction in the number of species and individuals of both C3 and C4 annual plants. (6) The results suggest that the high species diversity in this habitat is partly a result of the different life form and photosynthetic pathway groups, each being adapted for utilizing a particular phase of the seasonally and yearly variable water.

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