Diverse Grasslands Tolerate Drought Well

K-State led study finds that grassland key to drought survival is diverse mixture of grasses.

Published on: Aug 16, 2012

For much of the year drought has been plaguing American grasslands. But a recent study found that grasses do not appear to be losing the turf war against climate when it comes to surviving with little precipitation.

The Kansas State University-led study looked at the drought tolerance of 426 species of grass from around the world. The goal was to better understand how grasslands in different parts of the world may respond to the changes in frequency and severity of drought in the future.

Grasslands have several important ecological functions, according to Joseph Craine, research assistant professor of biology and the study's lead author. Grasslands convert and store carbon dioxide, are a food source for grazing animals like cattle and bison, and help cool the surrounding atmosphere.

Diverse Grasslands Tolerate Drought Well
Diverse Grasslands Tolerate Drought Well

"The idea is that if you maintain a diverse grassland, you'll have a large number of drought-tolerant species ready to take over critical functions if there is a change in climate or an extended period of drought, like what we've had this year," Craine said. "Yet, we've never known which grasslands have drought-tolerant species in them."

Craine conducted the study with Kansas State University's Troy Ocheltree, research assistant of biology; Jesse Nippert, assistant professor of biology; Gene Towne, biology research associate and Konza Prairie Biological Station fire chief; and Adam Skibbe, information resource specialist for the Division of Biology, as well as with colleagues from the University of Oregon and the Nature Conservancy in Minneapolis, Minn. It is the largest study conducted to quantify how tolerant grass species are to severe drought.