Chinese Science Bulletin

, Volume 58, Issue 35, pp 4426–4436 | Cite as

Response of forest distribution to past climate change: An insight into future predictions

Open Access
Review Geography


Vegetation dynamics could lead to changes in the global carbon and hydrology cycle, as well as feedbacks to climate change. This paper reviews the response of forest dynamics to climate change. Based on palaeoecological studies, we summarized the features and modes of vegetation response to climate change and categorized the impacts of climate change on vegetation dynamics as three types: climate stress on vegetation, buffer effects by non-climatic factors, and perturbation of the vegetation distribution by stochastic events. Due to the openness of the vegetation system and the integrated effects of both climatic and non-climatic factors, the vegetation-climate relationship deviates far from its equilibrium. The vegetation distribution shows a non-linear response to climate change, which also makes it difficult to quantify the modern vegetation distribution in terms of specific climatic factors. Past analog, space-for-time-substitution and Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs) are three approaches to predicting the future vegetation distribution, but they have all been established on the assumption of vegetation-climate equilibrium. We propose that improving DGVMs is a future task for studies of vegetation dynamics because these are process-based models incorporating both disturbance (e.g. fire) and the variability in Plant Functional Types (PFTs). However, palaeoecological results should be used to test the models, and issues like spatial and temporal scale, complexity of climate change, effects of non-climatic factors, vegetation-climate feedback, and human regulation on vegetation dynamics are suggested as topics for future studies.


biogeography Quaternary ecology climate change pollen Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs) 


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© The Author(s) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Urban and Environmental Sciences and MOE Laboratory for Earth Surface ProcessesPeking UniversityBeijingChina

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