Contemporary Problems of Ecology

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 315–325 | Cite as

A GIS simulation of potential vegetation in China under different climate scenarios at the end of the 21st century

  • J. Zhao
  • H. Y. Du
  • Y. F. Shi
  • Y. J. Che


The study of potential vegetation can reveal the impact of climate on changes in vegetation patterns. It is the starting point for studying vegetation-environmental classification and relationships, and it is the key point for studying global change and terrestrial ecosystems. By using the Comprehensive Sequential Classification System (CSCS) and the meteorological data under the four climate change scenarios from the IPCC5 publication, the present paper carries out a GIS simulation study of the spatial distribution of potential vegetation in China at the end of the 21st century. The results indicate that under the four climate scenarios at the end of the 21st century: (1) The potential vegetation in China shows significant horizontal and vertical distribution, which corresponds well to those of natural topographic features. (2) There are 40 classes of potential vegetation in China. Tropical-extrarid tropical desert (VIIA), which has no corresponding condition of growth in China, is commonly lacking, and differences exist among the potential vegetation classes and among the ratios of the classes under different scenarios. (3) From the perspective of categories, temperate forest is the most widely distributed, and savanna is the least widely distributed. Together with the strengthening of the radiation intensity according to RCP2.6 → RCP4.5 → RCP6.0 → RCP8.5, the area covered by cold-dry potential vegetation decreases as the area covered by warm-humid potential vegetation increases. As a result, the areas of tundra and alpine steppe, frigid desert, steppe, and temperate humid grassland tend to decrease, and those of semi-desert, temperate forest, sub-tropical forest, tropical forest, warm desert, and savanna tend to increase. Moreover, the potential vegetation in China at the end of the 21st century would change at different levels and in different directions when compared with that at the end of the 20th century. (4) In the same period, potential vegetation in different regions shows differences in their sensitivity to climate change, and by the end of the 21st century, 30.73% of land in China would be classified as a sensitive region, which highly corresponds to the current ecologically vulnerable zone, and whose potential vegetation easily evolves along with changes of climate scenarios.


potential vegetation Comprehensive Sequential Classification System (CSCS) climate scenario GIS simulation 


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© Pleiades Publishing, Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Geography and Environment ScienceNorthwest Normal UniversityLanzhouChina

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