Journal of Arid Land

Article Title

Effects of climate change on phenology and primary productivity in the desert steppe of Inner Mongolia


Variations in temperature and precipitation affect local ecosystems. Considerable spatial and temporal heterogeneity exists in arid ecosystems such as desert steppes. In this study, we analyzed the spatiotemporal dynamics of climate and vegetation phenology in the desert steppe of Inner Mongolia, China using meteorological data (1961–2010) from 11 stations and phenology data (2004–2012) from 6 ecological observation stations. We also estimated the gross primary production for the period of 1982–2009 and found that the annual mean temperature increased at a rate of 0.47ºC/decade during 1961–2010, with the last 10 years being consistently warmer than the 50 years as an average. The most significant warming occurred in winters. Annual precipitation slightly decreased during the 50-year period, with summer precipitation experiencing the highest drop in the last 10 years, and spring precipitation, a rise. Spatially, annual precipitation increased significantly in the northeastern and eastern central areas next to the typical steppe. From 2004 to 2012, vegetation green-up and senescence date advanced in the study area, shortening the growing season. Consequently, the primary productivity of the desert steppe decreased along the precipitation gradient from southeast to northwest. Temporally, productivity increased during the period of 1982–1999 and significantly decreased after 2000. Overall, the last decade witnessed the most dramatic climatic changes that were likely to negatively affect the desert steppe ecosystem. The decreased primary productivity, in particular, decreases ecosystem resilience and impairs the livelihood of local farmers and herdsmen.


desert steppe; green-up; gross primary productivity; phenology; precipitation; temperature

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