Landscape Ecology

, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 897–910 | Cite as

Response of an aridland ecosystem to interannual climate variability and prolonged drought

  • Deana D. Pennington
  • Scott L. Collins
Research Article


Water is a key driver of ecosystem processes in aridland ecosystems. Thus, changes in climate could have significant impacts on ecosystem structure and function. In the southwestern US, interactions among regional climate drivers (e.g., El Niño Southern Oscillation) and topographically controlled convective storms create a spatially and temporally variable precipitation regime that governs the rate and magnitude of ecosystem processes. We quantified the spatial and temporal distribution of reduced grassland greenness in response to seasonal and annual variation in precipitation at two scales at the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research site in central New Mexico, using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values from bi-weekly AVHRR data and seasonal ETM data from 1989 to 2005. We used spatially explicit NDVI Z-scores to identify times and places of significantly reduced greenness and related those to interactions between plant functional type, seasonal climate variation, and topography. Seasonal greenness was bimodal with a small peak in spring and a stronger peak following the summer monsoon. Greenness was generally spatially homogeneous in spring and more spatially variable in summer. From 2001 through spring 2002, drought effects were evidenced by a 4-fold increase in the number of pixels showing significantly low greenness. Spatial distribution of low greenness was initially modulated by topographic position, but as the drought intensified spread throughout the study area. Vegetation green up occurred rapidly when drought conditions ceased. We conclude that drought effects vary spatially over time, pervasive drought reduces broad-scale spatial heterogeneity, and greenness patterns recover rapidly when drought conditions end.


Aridland ecosystems Drought Grasslands New Mexico NDVI 



The Sevilleta Long-term Ecological Research Program is funded by National Science Foundation grant DEB-0217774, to the University of New Mexico. Data and supporting materials are available at Special thanks to Bruce Milne, Julio Betancourt, Jim Gosz, and Dave Gutzler for commenting on early drafts of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology, MSC03 2020University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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