Consistent response of vegetation dynamics to recent climate change in tropical mountain regions

Authors

  • Jagdish Krishnaswamy,

    1. Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore, India
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  • Robert John,

    Corresponding author
    1. Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore, India
    2. Department of Biological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, Mohanpur, West Bengal, India
    • Correspondence: Robert John, tel. +91 33 2587 3121, (Ext: 244), +91 94490 40468, fax +91 33 2587 3020, e-mail: robert.john@iiserkol.ac.in

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  • Shijo Joseph

    1. Forests and Environment Program, Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor Barat, Indonesia
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Abstract

Global climate change has emerged as a major driver of ecosystem change. Here, we present evidence for globally consistent responses in vegetation dynamics to recent climate change in the world's mountain ecosystems located in the pan-tropical belt (30°N–30°S). We analyzed decadal-scale trends and seasonal cycles of vegetation greenness using monthly time series of satellite greenness (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) and climate data for the period 1982–2006 for 47 mountain protected areas in five biodiversity hotspots. The time series of annual maximum NDVI for each of five continental regions shows mild greening trends followed by reversal to stronger browning trends around the mid-1990s. During the same period we found increasing trends in temperature but only marginal change in precipitation. The amplitude of the annual greenness cycle increased with time, and was strongly associated with the observed increase in temperature amplitude. We applied dynamic models with time-dependent regression parameters to study the time evolution of NDVI–climate relationships. We found that the relationship between vegetation greenness and temperature weakened over time or was negative. Such loss of positive temperature sensitivity has been documented in other regions as a response to temperature-induced moisture stress. We also used dynamic models to extract the trends in vegetation greenness that remain after accounting for the effects of temperature and precipitation. We found residual browning and greening trends in all regions, which indicate that factors other than temperature and precipitation also influence vegetation dynamics. Browning rates became progressively weaker with increase in elevation as indicated by quantile regression models. Tropical mountain vegetation is considered sensitive to climatic changes, so these consistent vegetation responses across widespread regions indicate persistent global-scale effects of climate warming and associated moisture stresses.

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