Extreme drought impacts have been underestimated in grasslands and shrublands globally.

Smith, Melinda D; Wilkins, Kate D; Holdrege, Martin C; Wilfahrt, Peter; Collins, Scott L; Knapp, Alan K; Sala, Osvaldo E; Dukes, Jeffrey S; Phillips, Richard P; Yahdjian, Laura; Gherardi, Laureano A; Ohlert, Timothy; Beier, Claus; Fraser, Lauchlan H; Jentsch, Anke; Loik, Michael E; Maestre, Fernando T; Power, Sally A; Yu, Qiang; Felton, Andrew J; ... (2024). Extreme drought impacts have been underestimated in grasslands and shrublands globally. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America - PNAS, 121(4), e2309881120. National Academy of Sciences 10.1073/pnas.2309881120

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Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of short-term (~1 y) drought events-the most common duration of drought-globally. Yet the impact of this intensification of drought on ecosystem functioning remains poorly resolved. This is due in part to the widely disparate approaches ecologists have employed to study drought, variation in the severity and duration of drought studied, and differences among ecosystems in vegetation, edaphic and climatic attributes that can mediate drought impacts. To overcome these problems and better identify the factors that modulate drought responses, we used a coordinated distributed experiment to quantify the impact of short-term drought on grassland and shrubland ecosystems. With a standardized approach, we imposed ~a single year of drought at 100 sites on six continents. Here we show that loss of a foundational ecosystem function-aboveground net primary production (ANPP)-was 60% greater at sites that experienced statistically extreme drought (1-in-100-y event) vs. those sites where drought was nominal (historically more common) in magnitude (35% vs. 21%, respectively). This reduction in a key carbon cycle process with a single year of extreme drought greatly exceeds previously reported losses for grasslands and shrublands. Our global experiment also revealed high variability in drought response but that relative reductions in ANPP were greater in drier ecosystems and those with fewer plant species. Overall, our results demonstrate with unprecedented rigor that the global impacts of projected increases in drought severity have been significantly underestimated and that drier and less diverse sites are likely to be most vulnerable to extreme drought.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Plant Ecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Stampfli, Andreas, Zeiter, Michaela


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




National Academy of Sciences




Pubmed Import

Date Deposited:

09 Jan 2024 09:22

Last Modified:

22 Jan 2024 14:46

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Drought-Net International Drought Experiment climate extreme productivity





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