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The Changbai Alpine Shrub Tundra Will Be Replaced by Herbaceous Tundra under Global Climate Change

1
Key Laboratory of Geographical Processes and Ecological Security in Changbai Mountains, Ministry of Education, School of Geographical Sciences, Northeast Normal University, Changchun 130024, China
2
School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA
3
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Plants 2019, 8(10), 370; https://doi.org/10.3390/plants8100370
Received: 24 August 2019 / Revised: 18 September 2019 / Accepted: 23 September 2019 / Published: 25 September 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Plant Ecology)
Significant replacement of shrub species by herbaceous species has been observed in the Changbai alpine tundra zone, China, since the 1990s. This study used plot surveys to analyze variations in the spatial distribution of dominant plants and to ascertain the changing mechanisms of dominant species in the alpine tundra zone. We found that the two previously dominant shrubs, Rhododendron chrysanthum and Vaccinium uliginosum, differed markedly in their distribution characteristics. The former had the highest abundance and the lowest coefficient of variation, skewness, and kurtosis, and the latter showed the opposite results, while the six herb species invaded had intermediate values. R. chrysanthum still had a relatively uniform distribution, while the herbaceous species and V. uliginosum had a patch distribution deviating from the normal distribution in the tundra zone. Micro-topography and slope grade had stronger effects on the spatial distribution of the eight plant species than elevation. Herbs tended to easily replace the shrubs on a semi-sunny slope aspect, steep slope, and depression. Overall, the dominance of dwarf shrubs declined, while the herbaceous species have encroached and expanded on the alpine tundra zone and have become co-dominant plant species. Our results suggest that various micro-topographic factors associated with variations in climatic and edaphic conditions determine the spatial distribution of plants in the alpine tundra zone. Future climate warming may cause decreased snow thickness, increased growing season length, and drought stress, which may further promote replacement of the shrubs by herbs, which shows retrogressive vegetation successions in the Changbai alpine tundra zone. Further studies need to focus on the physio-ecological mechanisms underlying the vegetation change and species replacement in the alpine tundra area under global climate change. View Full-Text
Keywords: alpine tundra; herbaceous plant expansion; dominant species; spatial distribution; altitudinal and topographic factors; Changbai Mountains alpine tundra; herbaceous plant expansion; dominant species; spatial distribution; altitudinal and topographic factors; Changbai Mountains
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Jin, Y.; Xu, J.; He, H.; Li, M.-H.; Tao, Y.; Zhang, Y.; Hu, R.; Gao, X.; Bai, Y.; Wang, H.; Han, Y. The Changbai Alpine Shrub Tundra Will Be Replaced by Herbaceous Tundra under Global Climate Change. Plants 2019, 8, 370.

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