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Climate change and shrinking alpine meadows


Trainees Jodi Brant and Michelle Haynes are showing that climate change is causing the contraction of mountain alpine meadow habitats in the southeastern Tibetan Plateau. Their study highlights the alarming rates of vegetation change in these biodiversity hotspots. Through their participation in IGERT, they were able to combine methods and analyses from each of their disciplines to address this question in a unique and interdisciplinary fashion. They studied land cover change using satellite imagery, field data, dendrochronology, interview data and official records. Between 1990 and 2009, 39% of meadows disappeared from the alpine zone as woody shrubs expanded upwards. They identified triggers to initial shrub establishment, including winter season precipitation and burning restrictions, and tested hypotheses of potential drivers of variability in shrub encroachment. They found that current patterns of shrub encroachment are highly related to climatic (spring snow cover) and biotic (existing proportion of woody vegetation) factors.

Address Goals

In terms of discovery, they are combining their different disciplinary approaches to understand the changing environment in one of the most biodiverse places on earth and providing information that can ultimately help to conserve it. In terms of learning, they are learning to work collaboratively with researchers in other disciplines to answer questions that are important for the long-term existence of humans in fragile landscapes. It is important to train scientists capable of asking, researching, and answering questions in a holistic, collaborative, and interdisciplinary fashion.