Nishtha Prakash, Philipps-Universität Marburg

Spatial Patterns of Global Treeline Ecotones

Alpine treeline ecotones are important ecosystem boundaries in mountains. The position and spatial patterns of these ecotones are results of the processes driven by interacting climatic, biotic, and abiotic, as well as anthropogenic factors. Identifying these spatial patterns on mountain slopes on different sites globally will help determine the correlations between patterns and environmental factors for treelines around the world.

Under this project, a GIS-based standardised method will be developed to identify treeline ecotone patterns (based on spatial metrics such as size of the ecotone, density of vegetation, height and width of trees, growth form, clustering diversity of vegetation, etc.). This method can be tested for treeline sites around the world, such as the European Alps, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the Pyrenees, etc. and will help create a picture of the global distribution of treeline ecotone patterns. Moreover, it will also help identify treeline ecotone patterns from rather under-studied and remote areas, especially in the (sub-) tropical mountains of the world, such as the Himalayas, Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya, etc. Further, detected patterns for the selected treeline sites will be verified against the ground data available.

The key hypothesis to be tested is that similar spatial patterns of treeline ecotones in different parts of the world are driven by similar demographic processes, driven in turn by a limited set of potential environmental drivers. Therefore, using statistical modelling, our aim is to describe these relationships. 

This project will contribute to the understanding of environmental and non-environmental drivers shaping the treeline ecotones globally, which would further help understand how changing environmental conditions will affect these sensitive high-elevation ecosystems.