Warming-induced tipping points of Arctic and alpine shrub recruitment

Xiaoming Lu, Eryuan Liang, Flurin Babst, J. Julio Camarero, Ulf Büntgen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shrub recruitment, a key component of vegetation dynamics beyond forests, is a highly sensitive indicator of climate and environmental change. Warming-induced tipping points in Arctic and alpine treeless ecosystems are, however, little understood. Here, we compare two long-term recruitment datasets of 2,770 shrubs from coastal East Greenland and from the Tibetan Plateau against atmospheric circulation patterns between 1871 and 2010 Common Era. Increasing rates of shrub recruitment since 1871 reached critical tipping points in the 1930s and 1960s on the Tibetan Plateau and in East Greenland, respectively. A recent decline in shrub recruitment in both datasets was likely related to warmer and drier climates, with a stronger May to July El Niño Southern Oscillation over the Tibetan Plateau and a stronger June to July Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation over Greenland. Exceeding the thermal optimum of shrub recruitment, the recent warming trend may cause soil moisture deficit. Our findings suggest that changes in atmospheric circulation explain regional climate dynamics and associated response patterns in Arctic and alpine shrub communities, knowledge that should be considered to protect vulnerable high-elevation and high-latitude ecosystems from the cascading effects of anthropogenic warming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2118120119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • Alpine
  • Arctic
  • Climate change
  • Shrub recruitment
  • Tipping point

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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