Permafrost degradation leads to biomass and species richness decreases on the Northeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Xiaoying Jin, Huijun Jin*, Xiaodong Wu, Dongliang Luo, Sheng Yu, Xiaoying Li, Ruixia He, Qingfeng Wang, Johannes M.H. Knops

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Degradation of permafrost with a thin overlying active layer can greatly affect vegetation via changes in the soil water and nutrient regimes within the active layer, while little is known about the presence or absence of such effects in areas with a deep active layer. Here, we selected the northeastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau as the study area. We examined the vegetation communities and biomass along an active layer thickness (ALT) gradient from 0.6 to 3.5 m. Our results showed that plant cover, below-ground biomass, species richness, and relative sedge cover declined with the deepening active layer, while the evenness, and relative forb cover showed a contrary trend. The vegetation indices and the dissimilarity of vegetation composition exhibited significant changes when the ALT was greater than 2.0 m. The vegetation indices (plant cover, below-ground biomass, evenness index, relative forb cover and relative sedge cover) were closely associated with soil water content, soil pH, texture and nutrient content. Soil water content played a key role in the ALT–vegetation relationship, especially at depths of 30–40 cm. Our results suggest that when the ALT is greater than 2.0 m, the presence of underlying permafrost still benefits vegetation growth via maintaining adequate soil water contents at 30–40 cm depth. Furthermore, the degradation of permafrost may lead to declines of vegetation cover and below-ground biomass with a shift in vegetation species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1453
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Active layer thickness
  • Alpine vegetation
  • Climate warming
  • Permafrost degradation
  • Soil water content

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