Assessing the upper elevational limits of vegetation growth in global high-mountains

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

The upper elevational limits of vegetation growth in global high-mountains have been the focus for monitoring and assessment of climate change impacts on terrestrial ecosystems. However, existing studies have relied on field surveys that do not allow for large-scale analysis. Although remote sensing data have been used for local and regional monitoring of the vegetation upper boundaries, a global synthesis of the treeline and vegetation line (the upper altitudinal threshold for the existence of trees and the transition line from vegetation to bare land or permanent snow cover, respectively) in high-mountain ecosystems is still missing. To fill this gap, we developed two independent methods based on (1) the relationship between a Sentinel-2 vegetation index and elevation and (2) the European Space Agency's 10 m resolution land cover dataset (WorldCover), respectively, to automatically identify the upper elevational limits of treeline and vegetation line for each one-quarter degree grid across the global high-mountain areas. We obtained highly consistent results from the two methods, both of which are spatially consistent with ground surveyed treeline elevations. Our results are in line with the current understanding of the global distributions of tree and vegetation lines, which are observed at the highest elevations in the Tibetan plateau and decreasing for increasing latitudes. We find that the tree and vegetation lines are aspect-dependent, reaching higher elevations on the equatorial-facing slopes than on the polar-facing slopes in high latitudes, and the opposite in the middle latitudes. Our analysis shows that mountain height is the dominant factor in determining the upper elevational limits of tree and vegetation lines across the globe, while climatic conditions and soil properties also play important roles at regional scales. Our study provides a framework for monitoring the tree and vegetation lines in global high-mountains and provides an important benchmark for further examining their long-term changes in response to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113423
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022

    Research areas

  • High mountains, Sentinel-2, Treeline, Upper elevational limits, Vegetation line

ID: 335787742