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Ecol Evol. 2018 Apr 27;8(11):5949-5963. doi: 10.1002/ece3.4099. eCollection 2018 Jun.

Current challenges in distinguishing climatic and anthropogenic contributions to alpine grassland variation on the Tibetan Plateau.

Li L1,2, Zhang Y1,2,3, Liu L1, Wu J4, Li S5, Zhang H1,2, Zhang B1,2, Ding M6, Wang Z1, Paudel B1.

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Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research CAS Beijing China.
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences Beijing China.
CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Sciences Beijing China.
Freie Universität Berlin Institute of Biology Biodiversity/Theoretical Ecology Berlin Germany.
School of Public Administration China University of Geosciences Wuhan China.
Jiangxi Normal University Nanchang China.


Quantifying the impact of climate change and human activities on grassland dynamics is an essential step for developing sustainable grassland ecosystem management strategies. However, the direction and magnitude of climate change and human activities in driving alpine grassland dynamic over the Tibetan Plateau remain under debates. Here, we systematically reviewed the relevant studies on the methods, main conclusions, and causes for the inconsistency in distinguishing the respective contribution of climatic and anthropogenic forces to alpine grassland dynamic. Both manipulative experiments and traditional statistical analysis show that climate warming increase biomass in alpine meadows and decrease in alpine steppes, while both alpine steppes and meadows benefit from an increase in precipitation or soil moisture. Overgrazing is a major factor for the degradation of alpine grassland in local areas with high level of human activity intensity. However, across the entire Tibetan Plateau and its subregions, four views characterize the remaining controversies: alpine grassland changes are primarily due to (1) climatic force, (2) nonclimatic force, (3) combination of anthropogenic and climatic force, or (4) alternation of anthropogenic and climatic force. Furthermore, these views also show spatial inconsistencies. Differences on the source and quality of remote sensing products, the structure and parameter of models, and overlooking the spatiotemporal heterogeneity of human activity intensity contribute to current disagreements. In this review, we highlight the necessity for taking the spatiotemporal heterogeneity of human activity intensity into account in the models of attribution assessment, and the importance for accurate validation of climatic and anthropogenic contribution to alpine grassland variation at multiple scales for future studies.


Tibetan Plateau; alpine grassland; climate change; degradation; human activity intensity; validation

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