Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 287–302 | Cite as

Recent ecological responses to climate variability and human impacts in the Nianbaoyeze Mountains (eastern Tibetan Plateau) inferred from pollen, diatom and tree-ring data

  • Juliane Wischnewski
  • Ulrike Herzschuh
  • Kathleen M. Rühland
  • Achim Bräuning
  • Steffen Mischke
  • John P. Smol
  • Lily Wang
Original paper


The Tibetan Plateau is a region that is highly sensitive to recent global warming, but the complexity and heterogeneity of its mountainous landscape can result in variable responses. In addition, the scarcity and brevity of regional instrumental and palaeoecological records still hamper our understanding of past and present patterns of environmental change. To investigate how the remote, high-alpine environments of the Nianbaoyeze Mountains, eastern Tibetan Plateau, are affected by climate change and human activity over the last ~600 years, we compared regional tree-ring studies with pollen and diatom remains archived in the dated sediments of Dongerwuka Lake (33.22°N, 101.12°E, 4,307 m a.s.l.). In agreement with previous studies from the eastern Tibetan Plateau, a strong coherence between our two juniper-based tree-ring chronologies from the Nianbaoyeze and the Anemaqin Mountains was observed, with pronounced cyclical variations in summer temperature reconstructions. A positive directional trend to warmer summer temperatures in the most recent decades, was, however, not observed in the tree-ring record. Likewise, our pollen and diatom spectra showed minimal change over the investigated time period. Although modest, the most notable change in the diatom relative abundances was a subtle decrease in the dominant planktonic Cyclotella ocellata and a concurrent increase in small, benthic fragilarioid taxa in the ~1820s, suggesting higher ecosystem variability. The pollen record subtly indicates three periods of increased cattle grazing activity (~1400–1480 AD, ~1630–1760 AD, after 1850 AD), but shows generally no significant vegetation changes during past ~600 years. The minimal changes observed in the tree-ring, diatom and pollen records are consistent with the presence of localised cooling centres that are evident in instrumental and tree-ring data within the southeastern and eastern Tibetan Plateau. Given the minor changes in regional temperature records, our complacent palaeoecological profiles suggest that climatically induced ecological thresholds have not yet been crossed in the Nianbaoyeze Mountains region.


Tibetan Plateau Nianbaoyeze Mountains Pollen Diatoms Tree-ring Climate change Human impact 



We are grateful to Patrick Rioual and an anonymous reviewer whose insightful comments strengthened our manuscript. The editorial help by Mark Brenner is very much appreciated. We also thank Huaming Shang for his help during fieldwork. Funding was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Supplementary material

10933_2013_9747_MOESM1_ESM.doc (118 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 118 kb)
10933_2013_9747_MOESM2_ESM.tif (24.9 mb)
ESM Fig. 1 (a) Comparison of the Anemaqin (black curve) and Nianbaoyeze (grey curve) tree-ring chronologies. Smoothed lines indicate long-term growth variations generated by smoothing the original data with an 11-year Fast Fourier Filter (thin black line: Nianbaoyeze, bold black line: Anemaqin); (b) expressed population signal (EPS) of the Anemaqin chronology. The threshold of 0.85, above which a chronology is regarded as reliable, is indicated by the horizontal dashed line (TIFF 25511 kb)
10933_2013_9747_MOESM3_ESM.png (68 kb)
ESM Fig. 2 Correlation function between the Anemaqin regional ring-width chronology and regional monthly values of temperature (grey shaded) and precipitation (hatched area). Asterisks indicate correlations significant at p < 0.05 (PNG 68 kb)
10933_2013_9747_MOESM4_ESM.png (92 kb)
ESM Fig. 3 Fallout radionuclides in the Dongerwuka Lake sediment core showing (a) total and supported 210Pb, (b) unsupported 210Pb, (c) 137Cs and 241Am concentrations versus depth (PNG 92 kb)
10933_2013_9747_MOESM5_ESM.png (131 kb)
ESM Fig. 4 Pollen diagram of lake surface sediment samples from the Nianbaoyeze Mountains, after Herzschuh et al. (2010) (PNG 131 kb)
10933_2013_9747_MOESM6_ESM.tif (8.9 mb)
ESM Fig. 5 Results of Principal Component Analysis (PCA), showing pollen taxa with > 0.5% abundance in at least three samples. To ease visibility, species are displayed as text symbols only (but treated as vectors, as appropriate for linear methods) (TIFF 9064 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliane Wischnewski
    • 1
  • Ulrike Herzschuh
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kathleen M. Rühland
    • 3
  • Achim Bräuning
    • 4
  • Steffen Mischke
    • 2
  • John P. Smol
    • 3
  • Lily Wang
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine ResearchPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of PotsdamPotsdam-GolmGermany
  3. 3.Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory, Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  4. 4.Institute of GeographyFriedrich Alexander University Erlangen-NürnbergErlangenGermany
  5. 5.Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CASBeijingChina
  6. 6.Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, CASBeijingChina

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