The vegetation of alpine tundra is undergoing significant changes and topography has played a significant role in mediating such changes. The roles of topography varied at different scales. In this study, we intended to identify topographic controls on tundra vegetation changes within the Changbai Mountains of Northeast China and reveal the scale effects. We delineated the vegetation changes of the last three decades using the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) time series. We conducted a trend analysis for each pixel to reveal the spatial change and used binary logistic regression models to analyze the relationship between topographic controls at different scales and vegetation changes. Results showed that about 30% of tundra vegetation experienced a significant (p
< 0.05) change in the NDVI, with 21.3% attributable to the encroachment of low-altitude plants resulting in a decrease in the NDVI, and 8.7% attributable to the expansion of tundra endemic plants resulting in an increase in the NDVI. Plant encroachment occurred more severely in low altitude than in high altitude, whereas plant expansion mostly occurred near volcanic ash fields at high altitude. We found that plant encroachment tended to occur in complex terrains and the broad-scale mountain aspect had a greater effect on plant encroachment than the fine-scale local aspect. Our results suggest that it is important to include the mountain aspect in mountain vegetation change studies, as most such studies only use the local aspect.
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