Rapid recovery of ecosystem function following extreme drought in a South African savanna grassland

Check out our recent paper in Ecology led by Kevin Wilcox on recovery of ANPP following extreme drought under different fire frequencies in Kruger Park, South Africa. Here's the abstract:

Climatic extremes, such as severe drought, are expected to increase in frequency and magnitude with climate change. Thus, identifying mechanisms of resilience is critical to predicting the vulnerability of ecosystems. An exceptional drought (<first percentile) impacted much of southern Africa during the 2015 and 2016 growing seasons, including the site of a long‐term fire experiment in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Prior to the drought, experimental fire frequencies (annual, triennial, and unburned) created savanna grassland plant communities that differed in composition and function, providing a unique opportunity to assess ecosystem resilience mechanisms under different fire regimes. Surprisingly, aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) recovered fully in all fire frequencies the year after this exceptional drought. In burned sites, resilience was due mostly to annual forb ANPP compensating for reduced grass ANPP. In unburned sites, resilience of total and grass ANPP was due to subdominant annual and perennial grass species facilitating recovery in ANPP after mortality of other common grasses. This was possible because of high evenness among grass species in unburned sites predrought. These findings highlight the importance of both functional diversity and within‐functional group evenness as mechanisms of ecosystem resilience to extreme drought.