Sedimentary ancient DNA reveals a threat of warming-induced alpine habitat loss to Tibetan Plateau plant diversity

Sisi Liu, Stefan Kruse, Dirk Scherler, Richard H. Ree, Heike H. Zimmermann, Kathleen R. Stoof-Leichsenring, Laura S. Epp, Steffen Mischke, Ulrike Herzschuh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Studies along elevational gradients worldwide usually find the highest plant taxa richness in mid-elevation forest belts. Hence, an increase in upper elevation diversity is expected in the course of warming-related treeline rise. Here, we use a time-series approach to infer past taxa richness from sedimentary ancient DNA from the south-eastern Tibetan Plateau over the last ~18,000 years. We find the highest total plant taxa richness during the cool phase after glacier retreat when the area contained extensive and diverse alpine habitats (14–10 ka); followed by a decline when forests expanded during the warm early- to mid-Holocene (10–3.6 ka). Livestock grazing since 3.6 ka promoted plant taxa richness only weakly. Based on these inferred dependencies, our simulation yields a substantive decrease in plant taxa richness in response to warming-related alpine habitat loss over the next centuries. Accordingly, efforts of Tibetan biodiversity conservation should include conclusions from palaeoecological evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2995
JournalNature Communications
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • sedaDNA
  • Vegetation change through time
  • treeline
  • Tibet plateau

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate

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