Past the climate optimum: Recruitment is declining at the world's highest juniper shrublines on the Tibetan Plateau

Xiaoming Lu, Eryuan Liang, Yafeng Wang, Flurin Babst, Steven W. Leavitt, J. Julio Camarero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Alpine biomes are climate change hotspots, and treeline dynamics in particular have received much attention as visible evidence of climate-induced shifts in species distributions. Comparatively little is known, however, about the effects of climate change on alpine shrubline dynamics. Here, we reconstruct decadally resolved shrub recruitment history (age structure) through the combination of field surveys and dendroecology methods at the world's highest juniper (Juniperus pingii var. wilsonii) shrublines on the south-central Tibetan Plateau. A total of 1,899 shrubs were surveyed at 12 plots located in four regions along an east-to-west declining precipitation gradient. We detected synchronous recruitment with 9 out of 12 plots showing a gradual increase from 1600 to 1900, a peak at 1900–1940, and a subsequent decrease from the 1930s onward. Shrub recruitment was significantly and positively correlated with reconstructed summer temperature from 1600 to 1940, whereas it was negatively associated with temperature in recent decades (1930–2000). Recruitment was also positively correlated with precipitation, except in the 1780–1830 period, when a trend toward wetter climate conditions began. Warming-induced drought limitation has likely reduced the recruitment potential of alpine juniper shrubs in recent decades. Ongoing warming without a simultaneous increase in precipitation is expected to further impair recruitment at the world's highest juniper shrublines and alter the dynamics and competitive balance between woody plant species throughout these alpine biomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02557
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019


  • Juniperus pingii var. wilsonii
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • alpine biomes
  • climate change
  • dendroecology
  • drought
  • dwarf shrub
  • global warming
  • plot
  • recruitment
  • shrubline
  • temperature optimum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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