Original Article

Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 11, Supplement 1, pp 49-64

First online:

Impacts of climate change on Chinese ecosystems: key vulnerable regions and potential thresholds

  • Jian NiAffiliated withState Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of SciencesAlfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research Email author 

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China is a key vulnerable region of climate change in the world. Climate warming and general increase in precipitation with strong temporal and spatial variations have happened in China during the past century. Such changes in climate associated with the human disturbances have influenced natural ecosystems of China, leading to the advanced plant phenology in spring, lengthened growing season of vegetation, modified composition and geographical pattern of vegetation, especially in ecotone and tree-lines, and the increases in vegetation cover, vegetation activity and net primary productivity. Increases in temperature, changes in precipitation regime and CO2 concentration enrichment will happen in the future in China according to climate model simulations. The projected climate scenarios (associated with land use changes again) will significantly influence Chinese ecosystems, resulting in a northward shift of all forests, disappearance of boreal forest from northeastern China, new tropical forests and woodlands move into the tropics, an eastward shift of grasslands (expansion) and deserts (shrinkage), a reduction in alpine vegetation and an increase in net primary productivity of most vegetation types. Ecosystems in northern and western parts of China are more vulnerable to climate changes than those in eastern China, while ecosystems in the east are more vulnerable to land use changes other than climate changes. Such assessment could be helpful to address the ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC Article 2).


Human disturbance Net primary production Species distribution Vegetation model Vegetation shift