Litter is an important component of terrestrial ecosystems and plays a significant role in carbon cycles. Quantifying regional-scale patterns of litter standing crop distribution will improve our understanding of the mechanisms of the terrestrial carbon cycle, and thus enable accurate predictions of the responses of the terrestrial carbon cycle to future climate change. In this study, we aimed to estimate the storage and climatic controlling factors of litter standing crop carbon in the Tibetan Plateau shrublands. We investigated litter standing crop carbon storage and its controlling factors, using a litter survey at 65 shrublands sites across the Tibetan Plateau from 2011–2013. Ordinary least squares regression analyses were conducted to estimate the relationships between litter standing crop carbon, longitude, and latitude. Multiple linear regressions were used to evaluate relationships among litter standing crop carbon, mean annual temperature (MAT), mean annual precipitation (MAP), and aboveground biomass. The litter standing crop carbon storage was 10.93 Tg C, 7.40 Tg C, and 3.53 Tg C in desert shrublands and alpine shrublands, respectively. Litter standing crop carbon decreased with longitude, and was stable with increasing latitude. Most (80%) of the litter standing crop was stored in branches, with only 20% stored in foliage in the shrublands on the Tibetan Plateau. The conversion coefficient was 0.44 for litter standing crop to litter standing crop carbon, and 0.39 and 0.45 for foliage and branch litter standing crop to foliage and branch litter standing crop carbon, respectively. Aboveground biomass can accelerate more inputs of litter and has a positive effect on litter standing crop carbon. MAT had a positive effect on litter standing crop carbon due to stimulating more input of aboveground biomass. However, MAP had a negative relationship with litter standing crop carbon by enhancing litter decomposition.
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