Which species are best at dry grassland habitat?
A new study from the University of Florida’s College of Tropical Agriculture finds that the grasslands of dry grasslands have many benefits.
But it also reveals that there are a few species of grasses that are particularly susceptible to drying.
These include some species that are already critically endangered.
The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Dry grassland habitats may play an important role in sustaining the viability of endangered species,” said John E. Schaller, lead author and a professor of soil science at UF and a faculty member in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
“If we can make them more resilient, we can save the planet from climate change.”
The study looked at the impacts of drylands on the environment.
The researchers looked at water quality and ecosystem health.
The research included an analysis of soil samples collected during drought in the drylands.
These samples showed high levels of nutrients and other compounds.
These are commonly found in the soil and can be toxic if not properly treated.
“These compounds have been found to be an important component of the natural environment, particularly in the context of dryland ecosystems,” said Schallert.
The team also looked at soil and plant species that could be vulnerable to drought.
The analysis showed that grasses such as grasses, meadows and birches, as well as bighorn sheep, can be extremely vulnerable to drying in drylands, especially during the dry season.
This is due to the presence of a chemical called tannin, which has been shown to be harmful to plant roots and microorganisms.
These species are already endangered, so this study is important in terms of showing that they can be restored to the wild without going extinct, Schallers said.
The study also looked into the impacts on the water supply and the land surrounding these areas.
The water supply was analyzed for nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
The nutrient levels were measured by a micro-scale sampling method, with the use of a device called a nitrate-reduction hydrograph.
This was done to ensure that the soil had adequate amounts of nutrients for plant growth.
The carbonate and calcium levels were also measured.
“We also wanted to understand how these species would respond to drought,” said Erika M. Johnson, a doctoral student and the lead author of the study.
“The soil in the wetland is not a perfect barrier to the water and nutrients in the air.
So we needed to measure how much carbonate would be available in the atmosphere when drought is present.
It turns out that these species are very sensitive to drought conditions, and in fact they are more sensitive to water than other species.”
The researchers then looked at how drought affects the carbonate levels in the soils.
“When drought occurs, the carbonates in the clay are removed from the soil, so the soil has less of them,” Johnson said.
“But when drought happens, the clay doesn’t have enough carbonate in it to support the plants and animals that use the soil.
So that can lead to changes in the carbonation levels, and that’s when we see changes in plant and animal growth rates.”
In addition to the impacts to the carbonated soil, the researchers found that a decrease in soil water content and soil moisture in dryland habitats led to changes to the growth of certain species of plant and animals.
“What we found is that drought increases the ability of these plants to resist water loss and the growth that takes place,” Johnson explained.
“And we found that drought also makes it more difficult for these species to find water in the environment.”
This study suggests that these beneficial effects of dryness can be achieved through managing soil resources to reduce their potential for erosion and soil degradation.
“Our research is the first to look at the effects of drought on plant and wildlife, and it raises important questions about what should be done to conserve these species,” Schallere said.
For more information about the research, visit the university’s online publication, www.ucf.edu/drought.
“By studying dry grasses in the U.S., we hope to help protect the future of these species in the wild,” Johnson added.
“It’s a win-win situation.”
The team is also working to restore native grasses and other species to drylands in the future.
“This work is not limited to dryland species,” Johnson noted.
“In addition to helping our research and conservation efforts, it’s important for the public to know that the dry grass landscape is a place where they can learn about these plants, their habitats and how we can restore their habitats.”