A team of researchers from the US and China has warned about the disturbance being caused to the alpine grasslands in the Tibetan Plateau due to global warming, which threatens the ability of farmers and herders needed to maintain their animals, that play a vital role in their survival.
According to the published study in the journal Nature Communications, temperature changes could destabilise the fragile ecosystem of the area but had no effect is seen on the rainfall pattern.
The study involved two varying factors likely to change with a warming climate; temperature and rainfall, in test plots over a five-year period.
"We were concerned about the variability of the total community plant cover over time," said Lin Jiang, Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US.
"Significant warming could reduce the stability of the grasslands, which would increase the variability of plant biomass production that could be a significant issue for people living in the region. We believe the effects of climate change could be particularly dramatic in this area," Jiang said.
The Tibetan Plateau is an area of about 2.5 million square kilometres and because of the high altitude, temperature here is extreme with high winds, hence more than 2/3rd of the Plateau is grassland which is used for grazing yak, sheep and other animals.
"Our results suggest that under a warmer climate, the ecosystem would provide less forage production in drought years, and more biomass production in wet years - which is undesirable," said Jin-Sheng He, Professor at Peking University in Beijing, China.
The researchers found that the stability of the grasslands was affected not by the richness of plant species, but by the effects on dominant species and the asynchrony of the species.
"That indicates the alpine grasslands that have well adapted to cold environments owing to their long-term evolutionary history may be jeopardised in the future," He said.