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Alpine treelines on Tibetan Plateau seen moving to higher altitudes due to global warming

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(TibetanReview.net, Jul12’23) – Alpine treelines, the uppermost limit of tree growth, are moving up on the Tibetan Plateau to occupy space hitherto held by shrubs as a result of climate change, reported China’s official globaltimes.cn Jul 10, citing Chinese researchers.

The research, conducted by teams from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research affiliated with Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), has shed new light on the impact of global warming on the alpine treelines and the growth and development of trees and shrubs in high-altitude forests, the report said, citing a statement from the institute.

Alpine treelines, which form the boundary between montane forest and alpine communities, are expected to advance upward in response to climate warming, the researchers have said in their findings. The research thesis was stated to have been published in the international academic journal National Science Review.

Li Xiaoxia, an associate research fellow from the institute has said the team used observational data on formation layer phenology (study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life) from a continuous observation station in southeastern Xizang (Chinese for Tibet Autonomous Region) and combined it with simulated phenology data from 11 Northern Hemisphere sites to systematically study the changes and mechanisms of the growth and development of trees and shrubs in spring on the alpine treeline against the background of global warming.

The team was stated to have found that the response of the formation layer phenology of trees and shrubs on the typical alpine treeline of Sejila Mountain in southeastern Xizang to spring warming was not synchronized, with shrubs being more sensitive to winter low-temperature stimulation and trees being more sensitive to accumulated temperature.


“The rate of warming in high-altitude areas is significantly higher than that in low-altitude areas, and the rate of warming in winter is much higher than that in spring, which may increase the phenological differences between trees and shrubs on the alpine treeline,” the team has said. “Our findings suggest that climate change is mismatching phenology between trees and shrubs, potentially enlarging the gap in growth patterns between life forms at the alpine treeline,” the researchers were stated to have written in their article. 

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