Based on these findings, warmer temperatures would likely play a role in changing the relative success of various grass types. "Only the warm-season grasses had their growth boosted higher by CO2 and warmer temperatures," Morgan said. "If this leads to a competitive advantage for warm-season grasses, it may increase the challenges faced by ranchers who desire cool-season grasses for early-season forage."
Elise Pendall and David Williams at the University of Wyoming at Laramie and Matthew Wallenstein at Colorado State University at Fort Collins also are participating in the study, which will be completed in 2013. Retired ARS soil scientist Bruce Kimball, designer of the infrared heater system, is helping conduct the study. Kimball serves as a research collaborator at the ARS U.S. Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Ariz.
Grass-dominated, dry rangelands account for approximately a third of the Earth's land surface, providing most of the forage eaten by livestock. This research, the first of its kind on this scale for rangelands, supports the USDA priority of helping farmers and ranchers throughout the United States and the rest of the world best adapt production practices to variable climate patterns.
Morgan said more research is needed to determine how the water-savings effect applies over the long run and in other types of semi-arid rangelands as well as to croplands in semi-arid areas. "It is important to understand that CO2 only offset the direct effects of warming on soil water in this experiment, and that it is unlikely to offset more severe drought due to combined warming and reduced precipitation projected for many regions of the world," he said.
|Contact: Don Comis|
United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics