Alpine timberline is a great place for monitoring climate change. The study of alpine and subalpine timberline in Qinling Mountains has led to early warning that reveals the response and adaptation of terrestrial vegetation ecosystem to climate change. Based on the remote sensing image classification method, the typical timberline area in Qinling Mountains was determined. Temperature and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data were extracted from the typical timberline area based on spatial interpolation and NDVI data. The relationship between NDVI and temperature change and the critical temperature value affecting vegetation response in the timberline area in Qinling Mountains were analyzed. Correlation between NDVI and air temperature in the alpine and subalpine timberline areas of Qinling Mountains exhibited an upward trend, which implied that temperature promotes vegetation activity. A strong correlation between temperature and NDVI in typical timberline areas of Qinling Mountains, and a significant correlation between temperature and NDVI in the early growing season. A phenomenon of NDVI lagging behind air temperature was observed. Temperature response showed synchronization and hysteresis. The correlation between cumulative temperature and vegetation was similar between Taibai Mountain and Niubeiliang timberline, and the correlation between NDVI in April and cumulative temperature in the first 12 months was the strongest. Temperature threshold range of Taibai Mountain timberline played a dominant role in vegetation growth. Our results provide insights and basis for future studies of early warning signs of climate change, specifically between 0.34 and 1.34 °C. The threshold ranges of temperature response of different vegetation types vary. Compared with alpine shrub meadow, the threshold ranges of temperature effect of Coniferous forest and Larix chinensis
Beissn. are smaller, implying that these vegetation types are more sensitive to temperature change.
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