Towards a global understanding of vegetation-climate dynamics at multiple timescales

Nora Linscheid, Lina M. Estupinan-Suarez, Alexander Brenning, Nuno Carvalhais, Felix Cremer, Fabian Gans, Anja Rammig, Markus Reichstein, Carlos A. Sierra, Miguel D. Mahecha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Climate variables carry signatures of variability at multiple timescales. How these modes of variability are reflected in the state of the terrestrial biosphere is still not quantified or discussed at the global scale. Here, we set out to gain a global understanding of the relevance of different modes of variability in vegetation greenness and its covariability with climate. We used > 30 years of remote sensing records of the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) to characterize biosphere variability across timescales from submonthly oscillations to decadal trends using discrete Fourier decomposition. Climate data of air temperature (Tair) and precipitation (Prec) were used to characterize atmosphere-biosphere covariability at each timescale. Our results show that short-term (intra-annual) and longerterm (interannual and longer) modes of variability make regionally highly important contributions to NDVI variability: short-term oscillations focus in the tropics where they shape 27% of NDVI variability. Longer-term oscillations shape 9% of NDVI variability, dominantly in semiarid shrublands. Assessing dominant timescales of vegetation-climate covariation, a natural surface classification emerges which captures patterns not represented by conventional classifications, especially in the tropics. Finally, we find that correlations between variables can differ and even invert signs across timescales. For southern Africa for example, correlation between NDVI and Tair is positive for the seasonal signal but negative for short-term and longer-term oscillations, indicating that both short- and long-term temperature anomalies can induce stress on vegetation dynamics. Such contrasting correlations between timescales exist for 15% of vegetated areas for NDVI with Tair and 27% with Prec, indicating global relevance of scale-specific climate sensitivities. Our analysis provides a detailed picture of vegetation-climate covariability globally, characterizing ecosystems by their intrinsic modes of temporal variability. We find that (i) correlations of NDVI with climate can differ between scales, (ii) nondominant subsignals in climate variables may dominate the biospheric response, and (iii) possible links may exist between short-term and longer-term scales. These heterogeneous ecosystem responses on different timescales may depend on climate zone and vegetation type, and they are to date not well understood and do not always correspond to transitions in dominant vegetation types. These scale dependencies can be a benchmark for vegetation model evaluation and for comparing remote sensing products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-962
Number of pages18
JournalBiogeosciences
Volume17
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2020

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