Cover stories: Volume 109 Issue 9

The cover image for our September issue is of some experimental drought shelters in southeastern Utah. This set up is reported in the paper: Drought resistance and resilience: The role of soil moisture–plant interactions and legacies in a dryland ecosystem by David L. Hoover, Alix A. Pfennigwerth and Michael C. Duniway. This article is part of a Special Feature entitled Reconciling resilience across ecological systems, species and subdisciplines, also published in this September issue.

Here the author David Hoover tells us more about the experimental setup for this work.

Cover Image: Experimental drought shelters located in a mixed grass-shrubland on the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah, USA. The shelters intercept 66% of ambient rainfall to create a seasonal drought in either the warm-season (May to October) or cool-season (November to April).

Climate change is projected to reduce water availability in many regions of the world through more frequent and intense droughts, as well as seasonal shifts in precipitation. Such changes in the hydrological cycle may exceed the resistance and resilience of organisms in water-limited ecosystems, leading to potential large and long-lasting ecological effects. To investigate this, we examined the effects of seasonal drought timing in a dryland ecosystem in our recently published paper, using experimental rainfall shelters featured in the cover of Journal of Ecology’s September 2021 issue.

Constructing the drought experiment including a) hydrologically isolating the plots with plastic, b) assembling rainout panels to intercept 66% of precipitation, c) building drought shelters, d) view of site with drought shelters and plots.

The drought experiment consisted of three rainfall treatments: a control receiving ambient precipitation, a warm-season drought (66% precipitation reduction May to October) and a cool-season drought (66% precipitation reduction November to April). These experimental structures were placed over native plant communities consisting of grasses with or without a large shrub (Ephedra viridis). This allowed us to examine ecological effects both during and after seasonal drought as well as the interaction between drought and the plant community.

Overall, our results highlight how drought legacies are a product of ecological resistance and resilience to past drought and can influence ecosystem vulnerability to future droughts.

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