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Open AccessArticle

Temporal Variability of Precipitation and Biomass of Alpine Grasslands on the Northern Tibetan Plateau

Lhasa National Ecological Research Station, Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modelling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
University of Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing 100049, China
Freie Universität Berlin, Institute of Biology, Biodiversity/Theoretical Ecology, 14195 Berlin, Germany
Key Laboratory of Watershed Geographic Sciences, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China
Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry, University of Padova, 35020 Legnaro (PD), Italy
Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research (BBIB), 14195 Berlin, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Remote Sens. 2019, 11(3), 360;
Received: 17 January 2019 / Revised: 3 February 2019 / Accepted: 7 February 2019 / Published: 11 February 2019
The timing regimes of precipitation can exert profound impacts on grassland ecosystems. However, it is still unclear how the peak aboveground biomass (AGBpeak) of alpine grasslands responds to the temporal variability of growing season precipitation (GSP) on the northern Tibetan Plateau. Here, the temporal variability of precipitation was defined as the number and intensity of precipitation events as well as the time interval between consecutive precipitation events. We conducted annual field measurements of AGBpeak between 2009 and 2016 at four sites that were representative of alpine meadow, meadow-steppe, alpine steppe, and desert-steppe. Thus, an empirical model was established with the time series of the field-measured AGBpeak and the corresponding enhanced vegetation index (EVI) (R2 = 0.78), which was used to estimate grassland AGBpeak at the regional scale. The relative importance of the three indices of the temporal variability of precipitation, events, intensity, and time interval on grassland AGBpeak was quantified by principal component regression and shown in a red–green–blue (RGB) composition map. The standardized importance values were used to calculate the vegetation sensitivity index to the temporal variability of precipitation (VSIP). Our results showed that the standardized VSIP was larger than 60 for only 15% of alpine grassland pixels and that AGBpeak did not change significantly for more than 60% of alpine grassland pixels over the past decades, which was likely due to the nonsignificant changes in the temporal variability of precipitation in most pixels. However, a U-shaped relationship was found between VSIP and GSP across the four representative grassland types, indicating that the sensitivity of grassland AGBpeak to precipitation was dependent on the types of grassland communities. Moreover, we found that the temporal variability of precipitation explained more of the field-measured AGBpeak variance than did the total amount of precipitation alone at the site scale, which implies that the mechanisms underlying how the temporal variability of precipitation controls the AGBpeak of alpine grasslands should be better understood at the local scale. We hypothesize that alpine grassland plants promptly respond to the temporal variability of precipitation to keep community biomass production more stable over time, but this conclusion should be further tested. Finally, we call for a long-term experimental study that includes multiple natural and anthropogenic factors together, such as warming, nitrogen deposition, and grazing and fencing, to better understand the mechanisms of alpine grassland stability on the Tibetan Plateau. View Full-Text
Keywords: aboveground productivity; enhanced vegetation index (EVI); precipitation pattern; sensitivity aboveground productivity; enhanced vegetation index (EVI); precipitation pattern; sensitivity
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Li, M.; Wu, J.; Song, C.; He, Y.; Niu, B.; Fu, G.; Tarolli, P.; Tietjen, B.; Zhang, X. Temporal Variability of Precipitation and Biomass of Alpine Grasslands on the Northern Tibetan Plateau. Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 360.

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