Indexed on: 13 Oct '11Published on: 13 Oct '11Published in: Ecology Letters
Extreme climatic events represent disturbances that change the availability of resources. We studied their effects on annual plant assemblages in a semi-arid ecosystem in north-central Chile. We analysed 130 years of precipitation data using generalised extreme-value distribution to determine extreme events, and multivariate techniques to analyse 20 years of plant cover data of 34 native and 11 exotic species. Extreme drought resets the dynamics of the system and renders it susceptible to invasion. On the other hand, by favouring native annuals, moderately wet events change species composition and allow the community to be resilient to extreme drought. The probability of extreme drought has doubled over the last 50 years. Therefore, investigations on the interaction of climate change and biological invasions are relevant to determine the potential for future effects on the dynamics of semi-arid annual plant communities.