Treeline Responsiveness to Climate Warming: Insights from a Krummholz Treeline in Rolwaling Himal, Nepal

  • Niels SchwabEmail author
  • Udo Schickhoff
  • Michael Müller
  • Lars Gerlitz
  • Birgit Bürzle
  • Jürgen Böhner
  • Ram Prasad Chaudhary
  • Thomas Scholten


At a global scale, the elevational position of natural upper treelines is determined by low temperatures during growing season. Thus, climate warming is expected to induce treelines to advance to higher elevations. Empirical studies in diverse mountain ranges, however, give evidence of both advancing alpine treelines as well as rather insignificant responses. Himalayan treeline ecotones show considerable differences in altitudinal position as well as in physiognomy and species composition. To assess the sensitivity of a near-natural treeline to climate warming at local scale, we analysed the relations between changes of growth parameters and temperature gradients along the elevational gradient in the treeline ecotone in Rolwaling valley, Nepal, by a multispecies approach. We observed species-specific transition patterns (diameter at breast height, height, tree and recruit densities) and varying degrees of abruptness of these transitions across the treeline ecotone resulting in a complex stand structure. Soil temperatures are associated with physiognomic transitions, treeline position and spatial regeneration patterns. In conclusion, treeline tree species have the potential to migrate upslope in future. Upslope migration, however, is controlled by a dense krummholz belt of Rhododendron campanulatum. Currently, the treeline is rather stable; however we found a prolific regeneration as well as signs of stand densification. Given the spatial heterogeneity of Himalayan treeline ecotones, further studies are needed to fully understand the complex conditions for the establishment and development of tree seedlings and the responsiveness of Himalayan treeline ecotones to climate change.


Density–diameter curve Regeneration Soil temperature Species composition Treeline dynamics Abies spectabilis Betula utilis Rhododendron campanulatum Sorbus microphylla 



We are grateful to Ram Bahadur, Bijay Raj Subedi, Simon Drollinger, Helge Heyken, Nina Kiese, Madan K. Suwal, Hanna Wanli and Ronja Wedegärtner who helped us during field work and to Julika Hellmold for suggestions on an earlier draft. We acknowledge Chandra Subedi for great support in logistics and administrative issues. B. Bürzle was funded by Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes. We are indebted to the German Research Foundation (DFG SCHI 436/14-1, SCHO 739/14-1, BO 1333/4-1), to Nepalese authorities for research permits and to the community in Rolwaling for the assistance in fieldwork, willingness to cooperate and hospitality.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niels Schwab
    • 1
    Email author
  • Udo Schickhoff
    • 1
  • Michael Müller
    • 2
  • Lars Gerlitz
    • 3
  • Birgit Bürzle
    • 1
  • Jürgen Böhner
    • 1
  • Ram Prasad Chaudhary
    • 4
  • Thomas Scholten
    • 2
  1. 1.CEN Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability, Institute of GeographyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Geosciences, Chair of Soil Science and GeomorphologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  3. 3.Section HydrologyGFZ German Research Centre for GeosciencesPotsdamGermany
  4. 4.RECAST Research Centre for Applied Science and TechnologyTribhuvan UniversityKathmanduNepal

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