Warming-induced shrubline advance stalled by moisture limitation on the Tibetan Plateau

Yafeng Wang, Eryuan Liang, Xiaoming Lu, J. Julio Camarero, Flurin Babst, Miaogen Shen, Josep Peñuelas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Willows (Salix) are some of the most abundant shrubs in cold alpine and tundra biomes. In alpine regions, seed dispersal is not limiting upwards willow expansion, so the upslope shift of willow shrublines is assumed to be a response to climatic warming. Very little, however, is known about the recent spatiotemporal dynamics of alpine willow shrublines. The world's highest willow shrublines (ca 4900 m a.s.l.) are located on the Tibetan Plateau (TP) and provide a rare opportunity to test their sensitivity and responses to rapid warming and the associated increase in the demand for water in ecosystems. We used a new data set comprising 24 Salix shrubline plots along a 900-km latitudinal gradient (30‒38°N) to reconstruct the rates of annual shrub recruitment and shifting shrubline positions since 1939. Shrub densification and shrubline advances were promoted by pronounced summer warming before 2010, contributing to widespread greening on the TP. These trends, however, reversed due to warming-induced moisture limitation after 2010, which thus represented a tipping point of warming/drying trade-offs. Climatic warming and drying are predicted to accelerate in the following decades, so alpine plant communities may be at an increasing risk of population decline or even range contraction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1631-1641
Number of pages11
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Alpine shrubline
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • global warming
  • moisture limitation
  • shrub expansion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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