Satellite-observed vegetation stability in response to changes in climate and total water storage in Central Asia

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Journal Article
Science of the Total Environment, 2019, 659 pp. 862 - 871
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© 2018 Elsevier B.V. Ecosystems in arid and semi-arid regions are vulnerable to climatic and anthropogenic disturbances. However, our understanding of vegetation stability (including resistance and resilience, which are the abilities of ecosystems to resist perturbations and return to pre-disturbance structure or function, respectively) in response to environmental changes in dryland ecosystems remains insufficient, particularly in the absence of large-scale observations of water availability. Here we introduced GRACE monthly total water storage anomaly (TWSA) data into an autoregressive model with remote sensed EVI, air temperature and precipitation to investigate the short-term vegetation stability and its influencing factors in Central Asia (CA) during 2003–2015. The results showed that the grid-level vegetation resilience in CA increased logarithmically as mean annual precipitation (R 2 = 0.33, P < 0.05) but decreased linearly with increasing mean annual temperature (R 2 = 0.41, P < 0.05). Vegetation resilience was not correlated with TWSA, due to the decoupling of TWSA with precipitation both spatially and temporally in the majority of CA. At the biome level, vegetation resilience also increased as a logarithmical function of aridity index (R 2 = 0.80, P < 0.05). Vegetation resistance to TWSA showed minor difference across biomes, while vegetation resistance to precipitation functioned as a parabolic curve along the aridity gradient (R 2 = 0.59, P < 0.05). Our results suggest that accounting for the effects of total water column instead of precipitation only is critical in understanding vegetation-water relationships in drylands. The steep decrease in vegetation resilience in areas with high temperature and low water availability implies a high risk of collapse for these water-limited ecosystems if there are severe droughts. Furthermore, reduction in total water storage, induced by, e.g., large-scale extraction of surface runoff or shallow-layer groundwater for irrigation, can result in negative influences to natural biomes in dryland regions.
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