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Heterogeneous Responses of Alpine Treelines to Climate Warming across the Tibetan Plateau

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Abstract

The Tibetan Plateau hosts a continuous distribution of alpine treelines from the Qilian Mountains to the Hengduan Mountains and the Himalaya Mountains. However, not much is known about the broadscale alpine treeline dynamics and their responses to climate warming across the Tibetan Plateau. Herein, we collected a total of 59 treeline sites across different forest regions of the Tibetan Plateau and the related field data (i.e., upward advance magnitude, tree recruitment and height growth), expansion potential (i.e., elevational difference between the current treeline and the tree species line (EP)) and vegetation TI (an index of species interactions) from the published references. Site characteristics (e.g., elevation, slope and aspect) and the related environmental factors were used to analyze the relationships between treeline shifts and environmental variables. Despite increases in the recruitment and growth of trees at most treeline sites, alpine treeline positions showed heterogeneous responses to climate warming. Most treelines advanced over the last century, while some treelines showed long-term stability. EP was significantly and positively linked to the summer warming rate and treeline shifts, suggesting that the position of current tree species line is of crucial importance in evaluating treeline dynamics under climate change. In addition, warming-induced treeline advances were modulated by plant–plant interactions. Overall, this study highlighted the heterogeneous responses of regional-scale alpine treelines to climate warming on the Tibetan Plateau.

https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/13/5/788