Direct measurements of aboveground plant biomass are often not feasible, thus various biomass proxies are in use. To obtain biomass estimates, these proxies are calibrated against actual biomass, and the resulting proxy-biomass relationship is often used across multiple years and experimental treatments within a study. We investigated how the proxy-biomass relationship varied across years and considered interannual precipitation variability as a contributing factor.
We sampled a perennial grassland for ten consecutive years (2003–2012) in central Hungary and estimated vegetation cover and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI); two frequently used biomass proxies representing two contrasting methods. Aboveground live herbaceous plant biomass was harvested from each plot after sampling, and regression models were used to assess the relationship between biomass proxies and actual aboveground biomass.
We found that cover and NDVI were equally effective at estimating biomass. However, the relationship between either biomass proxy and actual biomass varied amongst years, and this was related to the amount of precipitation. In wetter years, proxy-biomass relationships were steeper than in drier years.
These results indicate that using the same proxy-biomass relationship across different years or precipitation regimes may not be valid and may introduce systematic error into biomass estimations in long-term studies or precipitation manipulation experiments.