Responses of vegetation to changes in terrestrial water storage and temperature in global mountainous regions

Haoyue Zhang, Chesheng Zhan, Jun Xia, Pat J.-F. Yeh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


As an important component of terrestrial ecosystem, vegetation acts as a sensitive recorder of changes in hydroclimatic conditions. Long-term time series of remote sensing-based vegetation indices and their influencing environmental driving factors, such as human activities and climate change, have been widely discussed in the literature. Globally, however, little is known about the hydroclimatic processes controlling vegetation changes in mountainous regions, which are conceived as more sensitive to climate change than other landscapes. The present study aims to quantify the respective roles of two dominant hydroclimatic factors, namely, TWS (i.e., terrestrial water storage) and Tair (i.e., temperature), in the spatio-temporal changes of mountainous vegetation over global six contrasting climate zones (i.e., tropical, arid, subtropical, temperate, sub-frigid, and frigid zones) during the period 2003–2016 based on EVI (i.e., enhanced vegetation index), TWS, Tair, and elevation data. Results indicate that the mean EVI shows a larger increasing trend (+0.85 %/decade, p-value < 0.01) and a larger decreasing trend in TWS (−85 mm/decade, p-value < 0.01) across the global mountainous regions than other global regions combined together (+0.61 %/decade, p-value < 0.01), particularly over high latitudes. With the increasing latitudes, the positive effect of temperature more dominates mountainous vegetation growth than moisture, as evidenced by the increasing trends of EVI with warming. However, in certain low-latitude mountainous regions (e.g., East Africa, South Asia, the western Tibetan Plateau, Brazil Plateau, and the southern Rocky Mountains), mountainous vegetation may face degradation due to water deficit induced by increased snowmelt, especially among the high-elevation ecosystems. The water availability controls vegetation activities more than Tair in the mid- and low-latitude regions, including the tropical, arid, and subtropical climate zones. These findings indicate that the potential shifts in mountainous vegetation may occur under the notable interactions with hydroclimatic factors, as the high-latitudes are experiencing ongoing warming and the mid- and low-latitudes are getting dryer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number158416
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue numberPart 2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2022


  • Climate zones
  • Elevation
  • Global mountainous vegetation
  • Temperature
  • Terrestrial water storage

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