Climate change will be a powerful stressor on ecosystems and biodiversity in the second half of the 21st century. In this study, we used the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to examine a 34-year trend along with the response of vegetation to climate indicators surrounding the world's largest megacity: the Pearl River Delta (PRD) of China. An overall increasing trend is observed in vegetation productivity metrics over the study period 1982 to 2015. Increase in winter productivity in both natural ecosystems and croplands is more related to increasing temperatures (r = 0.5-0.78), than to changes in rainfall. For growing season productivity, negative correlations with temperature were observed in cropland regions, and some forests in the northern part of PRD region, suggesting high-temperature stress on crop production and forest vegetation. However, increased winter and spring temperatures provide higher opportunities for cropping in winter. During the decade 1995-2004, vegetation productivity metrics showed a reversal in the upward trend. The geographical and biological complexity of the region under significant climatic and development impacts suggests causative factors would be synergistic. These include our observed decrease in sunshine hours, increasing cloud cover associated with atmospheric aerosols from industrial and urban development, direct pollution effects on plant growth, and exceedance of high temperature growth thresholds.
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