Intense short-term drought is harder on grasslands than previously thought

University of Alberta Folio – January 12, 2024 – by Bev Betkowski

Intense short-term drought driven by climate change is likely to have a much worse effect on the world’s grasslands than previously thought, according to University of Alberta researchers involved in an international study.

An experimentally imposed year-long drought on grasslands and shrublands in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America resulted in a 60 per cent greater loss in plant growth under the extreme conditions, compared with more common historical drought patterns.

The groundbreaking collective study, conducted by more than 170 researchers, is the first to use a standardized experiment worldwide to provide a big-picture projection of intense drought extremity.

“What the finding tells us is that we have underestimated, so far, the impacts of short-term extreme drought on grassland systems,” says Cameron Carlyle, a rangeland ecologist in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences and one of five U of A co-authors on the study.

Read more about the drought study here.