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Hotter and drier climate made the Mediterranean Europe and Northern Africa region a shrubbier landscape

  • Special Issue: In Honor of Russell K. Monson
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A shift to higher temperatures has left the Mediterranean Europe and Northern Africa (MENA) region more vulnerable to drought and land degradation. We used MODIS LAI (leaf area index) and GPP (gross primary production) deficits, the differences between actual and historical-maximum values, to describe vegetation structural and functional changes and consequential landcover change in response to changing climate conditions during 2001–2019 in the area (20° W–45° E, 20° N–45° N). We found that 1) the vegetation responses varied significantly among eight landcover types with the decreasing importance: forests, savannas, a mosaic of cropland and natural vegetation (CNV), croplands, permanent wetlands, urban land, grasslands, and shrublands, each with distinctive yet overlapping signatures over the ranges of the climate conditions considered. 2) Forests, occupying the coolest and wettest niche, showed the strongest response to severe drought with a lag of 1–3 years and a legacy effect for 10 years. Shrubs, occupying the hottest and driest niche, were the most resilient under a hotter and drier climate. 3) The total areas of savannas and CNV increased by 394,994 and 404,592 km2, respectively, while that of forests decreased by 33,091 km2. Shrublands extended by 287,134 km2 while grasslands and croplands retreated by 490,644 and 225,263 km2. The area of wetlands increased by 49,192 km2, and that of urban land increased by 39,570 km2. A total of 57,649 km2 of barren land became vegetated over the years. Along with higher temperature and more extended period of drought, MENA has evolved towards a shrubbier landscape.

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Availability of data and code

The datasets and code used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive comments that improved previous versions of the manuscript. This manuscript is to be published as part of a Special Issue honoring Russ Monson. We appreciate particularly Russ' academic leadership and contributions to plant evolution, plant ecology, and ecosystem ecology.


We acknowledge the funding support of the NSF 81620108010 for WF, PSC-CUNY ENHC-48-33 and CUNY CIRG-80209-08 22 for CY, Natural Science Foundation of Anhui province of China (NO. 2008085QD167) for PX, and Federal Work-Study Undergraduate Research Assistantship for GL.

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CY designed the research with WF. WF performed analysis with CY. WF processed the data with KJ, ZL, PX, and SG. WF drafted the first manuscript and DC substantially improved the interpretation of results. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Chuixiang Yi.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Communicated by Paul Stoy.

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Fang, W., Yi, C., Chen, D. et al. Hotter and drier climate made the Mediterranean Europe and Northern Africa region a shrubbier landscape. Oecologia 197, 1111–1126 (2021).

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