Date of this Version
Plant Ecol (2012) 213:1229–1239; DOI 10.1007/s11258-012-0081-x
The success of invasive aridland plants may depend on their utilization of precipitation not fully exploited by native species, which could lead to seasonally altered ecosystem carbon and water fluxes. We measured volumetric soil water across 25-cm profiles (θ25cm) and springtime whole-plant water- and carbon-fluxes of the exotic Lehmann lovegrass (Eragrostis lehmanniana) and a native bunchgrass, bush muhly (Muhlenbergia porteri), following typical (55 mm in 2009) and El Niño-enhanced accumulations (154 mm in 2010) in a SE Arizona savanna. Across both years, h25cm was higher under lovegrass plots, with similar evapotranspiration (ET) between lovegrass and bush muhly plots. However, in 2010 transpiration (T) was higher in bush muhly than lovegrass, implying higher soil evaporation in lovegrass plots maintained similar ET. Net ecosystem carbon dioxide exchange (NEE) was similar between lovegrass and bush muhly plots in 2009, but was more negative in bush muhly plots following El Niño, indicating greater CO2 assimilation. Ecosystem respiration (Reco) and gross ecosystem photosynthesis (GEP) were similar between lovegrass and bush muhly plots in 2009, but were higher in bush muhly plots in 2010. As a result, lovegrass plots reduced ecosystem water-use efficiency (WUEe = NEE/ET), while bush muhly WUEe remained constant between 2009 and 2010. Concurrent whole-plant WUE (WUEp = GEP/T) did not change in lovegrass plots, but increased in bush muhly plots between these years. We concluded that cool-season precipitation use is not a component of Lehmann lovegrass invasive success, but that the change in ET partitioning and attendant shifts in cool-season WUEe may increase interannual variation in ecosystem water- and carbon-exchange dynamics in the water-limited systems it dominates.