Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 13, Issue 11, pp 2036–2045 | Cite as

Contrasting changes in above- and below-ground biomass allocation across treeline ecotones in southeast Tibet

  • Xin-sheng LiuEmail author
  • Yu-qin Nie
  • Gao-qiang Kong
  • Tian-xiang Luo


Under conditions of a warmer climate, the advance of the alpine treeline into alpine tundra has implications for carbon dynamics in mountain ecosystems. However, the above- and below-ground live biomass allocations among different vegetation types within the treeline ecotones are not well investigated. To determine the altitudinal patterns of above-/below-ground carbon allocation, we measured the root biomass and estimated the above-ground biomass (AGB) in a subalpine forest, treeline forest, alpine shrub, and alpine grassland along two elevational transects towards the alpine tundra in southeast Tibet. The AGB strongly declined with increasing elevation, which was associated with a decrease in the leaf area index and a consequent reduction in carbon gain. The fine root biomass (FRB) increased significantly more in the alpine shrub and grassland than in the treeline forest, whereas the coarse root biomass changed little with increasing altitudes, which led to a stable below-ground biomass (BGB) value across altitudes. Warm and infertile soil conditions might explain the large amount of FRB in alpine shrub and grassland. Consequently, the root to shoot biomass ratio increased sharply with altitude, which suggested a remarkable shift of biomass allocation to root systems near the alpine tundra. Our findings demonstrate contrasting changes in AGB and BGB allocations across treeline ecotones, which should be considered when estimating carbon dynamics with shifting treelines.


Treeline ecotone Fine root biomass Above-ground biomass Vegetation type Southeast Tibet 


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xin-sheng Liu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Yu-qin Nie
    • 3
  • Gao-qiang Kong
    • 2
  • Tian-xiang Luo
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Tourism and Territorial ResourcesJiujiang UniversityJiujiangChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Alpine Ecology and Biodiversity, Institute of Tibetan Plateau ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.School of AccountancyJiujiang UniversityJiujiangChina

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