Impacts of the seasonal distribution of rainfall on vegetation productivity across the Sahel

Zhang, Wenmin; Brandt, Martin; Tong, Xiaoye; Tian, Qingjiu; Fensholt, Rasmus

Climate change in drylands has caused alterations in the seasonal distribution of rainfall including increased heavy-rainfall events, longer dry spells, and a shifted timing of the wet season. Yet the aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) in drylands is usually explained by annual-rainfall sums, disregarding the influence of the seasonal distribution of rainfall. This study tested the importance of rainfall metrics in the wet season (onset and cessation of the wet season, number of rainy days, rainfall intensity, number of consecutive dry days, and heavy-rainfall events) for growing season ANPP. We focused on the Sahel and northern Sudanian region (100–800 inline-formulamm yr−1) and applied daily satellite-based rainfall estimates (CHIRPS v2.0) and growing-season-integrated normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI; MODIS) as a proxy for ANPP over the study period: 2001–2015. Growing season ANPP in the arid zone (100–300 inline-formulamm yr−1) was found to be rather insensitive to variations in the seasonal-rainfall metrics, whereas vegetation in the semi-arid zone (300–700 inline-formulamm yr−1) was significantly impacted by most metrics, especially by the number of rainy days and timing (onset and cessation) of the wet season. We analysed critical breakpoints for all metrics to test if vegetation response to changes in a given rainfall metric surpasses a threshold beyond which vegetation functioning is significantly altered. It was shown that growing season ANPP was particularly negatively impacted after inline-formula>14 consecutive dry days and that a rainfall intensity of inline-formula∼13inline-formulamm day−1 was detected for optimum growing season ANPP. We conclude that the number of rainy days and the timing of the wet season are seasonal-rainfall metrics that are decisive for favourable vegetation growth in the semi-arid Sahel and need to be considered when modelling primary productivity from rainfall in the drylands of the Sahel and elsewhere.



Zhang, Wenmin / Brandt, Martin / Tong, Xiaoye / et al: Impacts of the seasonal distribution of rainfall on vegetation productivity across the Sahel. 2018. Copernicus Publications.


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