Skip to page content
USDA Forest Service

Research & Development Treesearch

Treesearch Home
About Treesearch
Contact Us
Research & Development
Forest Products Lab
International Institute of Tropical Forestry
Pacific Northwest
Pacific Southwest
Rocky Mountain
Southern Research Station
Help - We Participate  Government Made Easy

Global Forest Information Service

US Forest Service
P.O. Box 96090
Washington, D.C.

(202) 205-8333

You are here: Home / Search / Publication Information
Bookmark and Share

Publication Information

View PDF (2.4 MB)

Title: Grassland to shrubland state transitions enhance carbon sequestration in the northern Chihuahuan Desert

Author: Petrie, M. D.; Collins, S. L.; Swann, A. M.; Ford, P. L.; Litvak, M. E.;

Date: 2015

Source: Global Change Biology. 21: 1226-1235.

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: The replacement of native C4-dominated grassland by C3-dominated shrubland is considered an ecological state transition where different ecological communities can exist under similar environmental conditions. These state transitions are occurring globally, and may be exacerbated by climate change. One consequence of the global increase in woody vegetation may be enhanced ecosystem carbon sequestration, although the responses of arid and semiarid ecosystems may be highly variable. During a drier than average period from 2007 to 2011 in the northern Chihuahuan Desert, we found established shrubland to sequester 49 g C m-2 yr-1 on average, while nearby native C4 grassland was a net source of 31 g C m-2 yr-1 over this same period. Differences in C exchange between these ecosystems were pronounced - grassland had similar productivity compared to shrubland but experienced higher C efflux via ecosystem respiration, while shrubland was a consistent C sink because of a longer growing season and lower ecosystem respiration. At daily timescales, rates of carbon exchange were more sensitive to soil moisture variation in grassland than shrubland, such that grassland had a net uptake of C when wet but lost C when dry. Thus, even under unfavorable, drier than average climate conditions, the state transition from grassland to shrubland resulted in a substantial increase in terrestrial C sequestration. These results illustrate the inherent tradeoffs in quantifying ecosystem services that result from ecological state transitions, such as shrub encroachment. In this case, the deleterious changes to ecosystem services often linked to grassland to shrubland state transitions may at least be partially offset by increased ecosystem carbon sequestration.

Keywords: carbon sequestration, Chihuahuan Desert, creosotebush shrubland, desert grassland, ecological state transition, ecosystem services

Publication Notes:

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Petrie, M. D.; Collins, S. L.; Swann, A. M.; Ford, P. L.; Litvak, M. E. 2015. Grassland to shrubland state transitions enhance carbon sequestration in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Global Change Biology. 21: 1226-1235.


 [ Get Acrobat ]  Get the latest version of the Adobe Acrobat reader or Acrobat Reader for Windows with Search and Accessibility

USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.