Climate effects on vegetation vitality at the treeline of boreal forests of Mongolia
Citable Link (URL):http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?gs-1/15188
In northern Mongolia, at the southern boundary of the Siberian boreal forest belt, the distribution of steppe and forest is generally linked to climate and topography, making this region highly sensitive to climate change and human impact. Detailed investigations on the limiting parameters of forest and steppe in different biomes provide necessary information for paleoenvironmental reconstruction and prognosis of potential landscape change. In this study, remote sensing data and gridded climate data were analyzed in order to identify main distribution patterns of forest and steppe in Mongolia and to detect environmental factors driving forest development. Forest distribution and vegetation vitality derived from the normalized differentiated vegetation index (NDVI) were investigated for the three types of boreal forest present in Mongolia (taiga, subtaiga and forest–steppe), which cover a total area of 73 818 km2. In addition to the forest type areas, the analysis focused on subunits of forest and nonforested areas at the upper and lower treeline, which represent ecological borders between vegetation types. Climate and NDVI data were analyzed for a reference period of 15 years from 1999 to 2013. The presented approach for treeline delineation by identifying representative sites mostly bridges local forest disturbances like fire or tree cutting. Moreover, this procedure provides a valuable tool to distinguish the potential forested area. The upper treeline generally rises from 1800 m above sea level (a.s.l.) in the northeast to 2700 m a.s.l. in the south. The lower treeline locally emerges at 1000 m a.s.l. in the northern taiga and rises southward to 2500 m a.s.l. The latitudinal gradient of both treelines turns into a longitudinal one on the eastern flank of mountain ranges due to higher aridity caused by rain-shadow effects. Less productive trees in terms of NDVI were identified at both the upper and lower treeline in relation to the respective total boreal forest type area. The mean growing season temperature (MGST) of 7.9–8.9 °C and a minimum MGST of 6 °C are limiting parameters at the upper treeline but are negligible for the lower treeline. The minimum of the mean annual precipitation (MAP) of 230–290 mm yr−1 is a limiting parameter at the lower treeline but also at the upper treeline in the forest–steppe ecotone. In general, NDVI and MAP are lower in grassland, and MGST is higher compared to the corresponding boreal forest. One exception occurs at the upper treeline of the subtaiga and taiga, where the alpine vegetation consists of mountain meadow mixed with shrubs. The relation between NDVI and climate data corroborates that more precipitation and higher temperatures generally lead to higher greenness in all ecological subunits. MGST is positively correlated with MAP of the total area of forest–steppe, but this correlation turns negative in the taiga. The limiting factor in the forest–steppe is the relative humidity and in the taiga it is the snow cover distribution. The subtaiga represents an ecological transition zone of approximately 300 mm yr−1 precipitation, which occurs independently from the MGST. Since the treelines are mainly determined by climatic parameters, the rapid climate change in inner Asia will lead to a spatial relocation of tree communities, treelines and boreal forest types. However, a direct deduction of future tree vitality, forest composition and biomass trends from the recent relationships between NDVI and climate parameters is challenging. Besides human impact, it must consider bio- and geoecological issues like, for example, tree rejuvenation, temporal lag of climate adaptation and disappearing permafrost.