The regional spatial and inter-annual response of the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI, as a proxy for aboveground net primary production) to environmental controls was evaluated in drylands of SE Spain. By means of linear mixed-effects models we found that both the spatial patterns and inter-annual trends of the EVI annual mean were explained by climate variability but clearly modulated by lithology and vegetation. Along the spatial gradient, precipitation increased the EVI mean even compensating for the greater evapotranspiration of warmer sites. Limestones, with high available water content, showed the lowest dependence of EVI mean on precipitation. The greater capacity of scrublands to store and use soil moisture was only evident on marls sites. The observed 2001–2010 trends toward less stressful conditions (precipitation rises and temperature declines) led to EVI mean increases. This EVI mean response was steeper in grasslands, with shallow roots, and marls, with low available water content. The study revealed the importance of analyzing the seasonal timing of trends in Mediterranean drylands, where temperature and precipitation are out of phase. The observed earlier rain-arrival after summer drought and cooler early-autumn, caused very strong EVI increases at the beginning of the growing season that may favor the rest of the season.
Keywords: Climate trends, Environmental controls, EVI trends, Linear mixed models, Primary production, Remote sensing, Semi-arid ecosystems, SE Iberian Peninsula