Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2019, Vol. 43 ›› Issue (4): 305-319.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2018.0241

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Spatiotemporal distribution changes in alpine desert belt in Qilian Mountains under climate changes in past 30 years

ZHANG Fu-Guang,ZENG Biao(),YANG Tai-Bao   

  1. College of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • Received:2019-02-11 Revised:2019-04-17 Online:2019-05-30 Published:2019-04-20
  • Contact: ZENG Biao ORCID:0000-0002-3398-0741
  • Supported by:
    Supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China(41871075);the Fostering Talents Project in National Basic Science(J1210065)


AimsAlpine desert, as the top part of the vertical vegetation spectrum of the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, is widely distributed in the high altitude zones in the Qilian Mountains (QLM). Its distribution and growth conditions are different from the surrounding area. It is more sensitive to climate change but rarely being studied. In this study, we focused on the dynamic changes and spatiotemporal differences of the alpine desert belt in the QLM under the warming climates from the 1990s to the 2010s.
MethodsThe distribution changes in the alpine desert belt in the QLM during the past three decades were obtained from the thematic mapper and the operational land imager remote sensing digital images by using the decision tree classification and artificial visual interpretation. Spatiotemporal differences of the alpine desert distribution were studied by the overlay analysis. Meanwhile, the relationships between the changes and climates were explored using correlation analysis.
Important findings The results indicated that the alpine desert shrank gradually and lost its area by approximately 348.3 km2·a-1 in the QLM with climate warming in the past 30 years. The amplitude of the shrinkage increased from east to west. However, its areas expanded in some sections. Collectively, the low boundary of the alpine desert belt moved upwards to higher altitudes at a velocity of 15 m per decade. The maximum upward-‌shifting amplitude lied in the western QLM, followed by the eastern and middle QLM. The vertical zonal shifting was modulated by topography-induced difference in local hydrothermal conditions. The distribution shifts in the alpine desert belt were mainly concentrated in the gentle slope regions. Because of the differences of hydrothermal background, the position shifts were greater in the sunny aspects than in the shady aspects in the eastern and middle QLM, while opposite in the western QLM. The differences in the hydrothermal conditions and regional topography led to the spatiotemporal change differences of the alpine desert distribution. The correlation between the normalized differential vegetation index and climate factors in the transition zone showed that temperature was the main factor affecting the dynamics and spatial differences of the alpine desert belt in the QLM, and climate warming facilitated the alpine meadow below the alpine desert belt by releasing the low temperature limitation on the vegetation growth.

Key words: alpine desert belt, spatiotemproal difference, climate change, remote sensing monitor, Qilian Mountains

Fig. 1

Study area of the alpine desert belt in the Qilian Mountains."

Table 1

Correlation analysis of GIMMS NDVI and MODIS NDVI in 2000-2006 of the alpine desert belt in the Qilian Mountains"

年份 Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
相关系数Correlation coefficient 0.865** 0.886** 0.814** 0.736** 0.891** 0.893** 0.838**

Fig. 2

Variations in the annual mean temperature and annual precipitation measured in the Qilian Mountains for 1990-2015."

Table 2

Monthly mean air temperature (T) and precipitation (P) trends of the alpine desert belt in the Qilian Mountains during 1990-2015"

东段 Eastern 中段 Middle 西段 Western
1月 Jan. 0.022 0.016 0.053 -0.020 0.006 0.006
2月 Feb. 0.055 -0.021 0.088 0.070 0.059 0.018
3月 Mar. 0.051 -0.084 0.023 -0.185 0.041 -0.185
4月 Apr. 0.082* -0.406 0.067 -0.030 0.067 0.053
5月 May 0.061* 0.273 0.050* 0.860* 0.059* 0.464*
6月 June 0.057** 0.357 0.052** 0.540 0.042* 0.653
7月 July 0.044* -0.691 0.061* 0.383 0.059 0.295
8月 Aug. 0.040* 1.020 0.070** 0.731 0.075** -0.102
9月 Sept. 0.030 1.633* 0.040 1.327** 0.022 0.479
10月 Oct. 0.072** 0.492 0.074** 0.133 0.071** 0.112
11月 Nov. -0.002 0.130 0.012 0.007 0.023 -0.110
12月 Dec. -0.045* 0.048 0.013 -0.008 -0.007 0.037

Fig. 3

Distribution range of the alpine desert in the Qilian Mountains (QLM) in the 1990S, 2000S, and 2010S, respectively. 1990S, 2000S, 2010S indicate the stable distribution range of the alpine desert in 1990-1999, 2000-2009, 2010-2015, respectively."

Table 3

Area change in alpine deserts distribution in the Qilian Mountains (QLM) in the 1990S、2000S and 2010S"

年代 Years
1990S 2000S 2010S
高寒荒漠面积 Alpine desert area (km2) 53 061.69 47 135.91 42 569.46
萎缩量 Shrunk area of the alpine desert (km2) 5 925.79 4 566.45 -
面积变化率 Area change ratio of the alpine desert 0.11 0.10 -
高寒荒漠面积 Alpine desert area (km2) 1 926.49 1 805.77 1 720.33
萎缩量 Shrunk area of the alpine desert (km2) 120.72 85.44 -
面积变化率 Area change ratio of the alpine desert 0.06 0.05 -
高寒荒漠面积 Alpine desert area (km2) 15 221.68 14 019.75 11 710.50
萎缩量 Shrunk area of the alpine desert (km2) 1 201.92 2 309.26 -
面积变化率 Area change ratio of the alpine desert 0.08 0.16 -
高寒荒漠面积 Alpine desert area (km2) 35 936.33 31 310.39 29 138.63
萎缩量 Shrunk area of the alpine desert (km2) 4 625.94 2 171.75 -
面积变化率 Area change ratio of the alpine desert 0.13 0.07 -

Fig. 4

Changes in the distribution of the alpine desert at different elevations in the Qilian Mountains in the 1990S, 2000S and 2010s. The meanings of 1990S, 2000S, 2010S are shown in Fig. 3."

Table 4

Average elevation of the lower boundary of the alpine deserts in the Qilian Mountains in the 1990S、2000S and 2010S."

东段 Eastern 中段 Middle 西段 Western
Average elevation (m)
Upward moving (m)
Average elevation (m)
Upward moving (m)
Average elevation (m)
Upward moving (m)
1990S 3 914.45 4 042.80 4 159.05
33.83 8.25 59.51
2000S 3 948.28 4 051.05 4 218.56
6.40 26.97 3.31
2010S 3 954.68 4 078.02 4 221.87
总计 Sum 40.23 35.22 62.82

Fig. 5

Changes in the distribution of the alpine desert at different slopes in the Qilian Mountains in the 1990S、2000S and 2010S. The meanings of 1990S, 2000S, 2010S are shown in Fig. 3."

Fig. 6

Changes in the distribution of the alpine desert at different aspects in the Qilian Mountains in the 1990S, 2000S and 2010S. The meanings of 1990S, 2000S, 2010S are shown in Fig. 3."

Fig. 7

Variations of maximun normalized differential vegetation index (NDVImax) in the transition zone between alpine meadow and alpine desert belt in the Qilian Mountains for 1990-2015."

Table 5

Correlation between climatic variables and normalized differential vegetation index (NDVI) in the transition zone between alpine meadow and alpine desert belt in the Qilian Mountains from 1990 to 2015"

Partial correlation coefficient
Complex correlation coefficient
东段 Eastern 0.848** 0.806** 0.518** 0.292** 0.862**
中段 Middle 0.649** 0.638** 0.265** 0.215** 0.669**
西段 Western 0.587** 0.564** 0.246** 0.160** 0.600**

Table 6

Nonlinear relationship between distribution of the lower boundary of the alpine desert and climatic variables in the Qilian Mountains from 1990 to 2015"

Vertical lapse rate of
temperature (℃·100 m-1)
Warming temperature
Equivalent upward
moving (m)
Actual upward moving
Average slope (°)
东段 Eastern 0.53 1.12 211.32 40.23 26.76
中段 Middle 0.49 1.26 257.14 35.22 18.06
西段 Western 0.51 0.50 98.04 60.82 13.60
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