The global alpine forest line shows an upward shift

Recently, the team of Zeng Zhenzhong, associate professor of the School of Environmental Science and Engineering of Southern University of Science and Technology, published the latest research results in Global Change Biology. This study successfully constructs a global alpine forest line database based on remote sensing, which reveals the phenomenon that alpine forest lines are gradually moving up under the background of global warming, and provides richer evidence for understanding the impact of climate change on global ecosystems.

There are some complexities in the study of mountain forest lines, a key indicator of the impact of climate change on highland ecosystems. Although forest lines may be disturbed by human activities, existing understanding of how climate affects forest lines is incomplete.

In this study, the researchers paid special attention to the alpine “closed-loop” forest lines, which form a closed loop at the top of the mountain and are less affected by land use change, which provides ideal research conditions for in-depth exploration of the impact of climate and climate change on the forest line.

Using high-resolution forest cover imagery, the research team analyzed in detail nearly 1 million kilometers of alpine closed-loop forest lines in 243 mountain ranges around the world. “We found that from 2000 to 2010, about 70% of the world’s alpine forest lines had moved upward, an average of 1.2 metres per year. Among them, the tropical forest line moves the fastest, with an average annual upward movement of about 3.1 meters, and the largest range of change. He Xinyue, the first author of the paper, introduced.

For example, in Malawi in Africa, Papua New Guinea in Oceania, and Indonesia in Southeast Asia, parts of the forest line are moving upward at a rate of 10 meters per year. In contrast, in temperate regions, some forest lines show slight regression, moving down an average of about half a meter per year.

The study found that forest lines rose fastest in areas where temperature was a major factor controlling forest lines. In temperate regions, rainfall is more important, so the change in tree lines is less rapid.

In the first decade of the 21st century, about 70 per cent of alpine forest lines have moved upward, especially in the tropics, where they move the fastest and change the most. “While moving forest lines means more trees can absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, it also expands the habitat of certain forest species; However, it also poses challenges to fragile ecosystems at high altitudes, such as tundra. Plants and animals at high altitudes tend to be very sensitive to environmental changes, and as forest lines move, they begin to compete for space and nutrients, potentially leading to serious threats to some endemic species. ”

Zeng Zhenzhong, the corresponding author of the paper, said that the global alpine forest line database constructed by the study not only helps biodiversity and carbon assessment, but also supports the construction of ecological models and the adaptation analysis of species to future climate change. In addition, in future forest line research, the cross-verification of high-resolution remote sensing products and field data of long-term series is of great significance. (Source: China Science News, Diao Wenhui)

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Research diagram Courtesy of SUSTech

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