Holocene land-cover changes on the Tibetan Plateau

TitleHolocene land-cover changes on the Tibetan Plateau
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsHerzschuh, U, Birks, HJB, Ni, J, Zhao, Y, Liu, HY, Liu, XQ, Grosse, G
Date PublishedFeb
ISBN Number0959-6836
Keywordsclimate-change, compositional turnover, EASTERN NORTH-AMERICA, function, GLOBAL HYDROCLIMATE, holocene, land-surface, LARGE-SCALE OROGRAPHY, LAST GLACIAL MAXIMUM, leaf area index, LEAF-AREA INDEX, parameter, Pollen, POLLEN DATA, QINGHAI LAKE, rate-of-change analysis, SURFACE PROCESSES, Tibetan Plateau, transfer, YUNNAN PROVINCE

Information on changes in land-surface features on the Tibetan Plateau (TP) during the Holocene may help our understanding of the forcing of monsoonal circulation. We analyse vegetation changes during the last 9000 years from pollen records of four lakes (Hurleg Lake in the Qaidam Basin; Qinghai Lake on the northeastern TP; Zigetang Lake on the central TP and Koucha Lake on the eastern TP) which represent different regions and vegetation types on the Plateau today. A set of modern pollen assemblages from 111 lake sediment samples originating from different vegetation types is used for the interpretation of the Holocene pollen records. Four types of numerical analyses are used to infer different aspects of pollen-stratigraphical and inferred vegetation changes: biome reconstruction; ordination (to infer palynological compositional turnover); rate-of-assemblage-change analysis, and a pollen-LAI (leaf area index) transfer function. Our results show strong regional differences in inferred vegetation change in terms of timing, strength and the nature of change. The greatest changes in compositional turnover and LAI are found in the Qinghai Lake record, indicating that forests were replaced by steppe vegetation in a step-wise fashion since the mid Holocene. Alpine steppe vegetation on the central and eastern TP was relatively stable throughout the Holocene, only showing a gradual replacement of temperate steppe by high-alpine meadows. The Qaidam Basin was dominated by temperate desert throughout the Holocene. The documented palynological and inferred vegetation changes can be most parsimoniously explained by climate change, although human impacts cannot be excluded as a contributing factor. Comparison of our findings with sensitivity analyses of numerical climate simulations suggests that long-term vegetation change may have had only a weak influence on regional climate change on the Tibetan Plateau.

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