Mismatch in elevational shifts between satellite observed vegetation greenness and temperature isolines during 2000–2016 on the Tibetan Plateau

Shuai An, Xiaolin Zhu, Miaogen Shen, Yafeng Wang, Ruyin Cao, Xuehong Chen, Wei Yang, Jin Chen, Yanhong Tang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


Climate warming on the Tibetan Plateau tends to induce an uphill shift of temperature isolines. Observations and process-based models have both shown that climate warming has resulted in an increase in vegetation greenness on the Tibetan Plateau in recent decades. However, it is unclear whether the uphill shift of temperature isolines has caused greenness isolines to shift upward and whether the two shifts match each other. Our analysis of satellite observed vegetation greenness during the growing season (May–Sep) and gridded climate data for 2000–2016 documented a substantial mismatch between the elevational shifts of greenness and temperature isolines. This mismatch is probably associated with a lagging response of greenness to temperature change and with the elevational gradient of greenness. The lagging response of greenness may be associated with water limitation, resources availability, and acclimation. This lag may weaken carbon sequestration by Tibetan ecosystems, given that greenness is closely related to primary carbon uptake and ecosystem respiration increases exponentially with temperature. We also found that differences in terrain slope angle accounted for large spatial variations in the elevational gradient of greenness and thus the velocity of elevational shifts of greenness isolines and the sensitivity of elevational shifts of greenness isolines to temperature, highlighting the role of terrain effects on the elevational shifts of greenness isolines. The mismatches and the terrain effect found in this study suggest that there is potentially large micro-topographical difference in response and acclimation/adaptation of greenness to temperature changes in plants. More widespread in situ measurements and fine-resolution remote sensing observations and fine-gridded climate data are required to attribute the mismatch to specific environmental drivers and ecological processes such as vertical changes in community structure, plant physiology, and distribution of species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5411-5425
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • climate warming
  • elevational shift
  • grassland
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • vegetation greenness
  • velocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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