Enhanced peak growth of global vegetation and its key mechanisms

Kun Huang, Jianyang Xia, Yingping Wang, Anders Ahlström, Jiquan Chen, Robert B. Cook, Erqian Cui, Yuanyuan Fang, Joshua B. Fisher, Deborah Nicole Huntzinger, Zhao Li, Anna M. Michalak, Yang Qiao, Kevin Schaefer, Christopher Schwalm, Jing Wang, Yaxing Wei, Xiaoni Xu, Liming Yan, Chenyu BianYiqi Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

182 Scopus citations


The annual peak growth of vegetation is critical in characterizing the capacity of terrestrial ecosystem productivity and shaping the seasonality of atmospheric CO 2 concentrations. The recent greening of global lands suggests an increasing trend of terrestrial vegetation growth, but whether or not the peak growth has been globally enhanced still remains unclear. Here, we use two global datasets of gross primary productivity (GPP) and a satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to characterize recent changes in annual peak vegetation growth (that is, GPP max and NDVI max ). We demonstrate that the peak in the growth of global vegetation has been linearly increasing during the past three decades. About 65% of the NDVI max variation is evenly explained by expanding croplands (21%), rising CO 2 (22%) and intensifying nitrogen deposition (22%). The contribution of expanding croplands to the peak growth trend is substantiated by measurements from eddy-flux towers, sun-induced chlorophyll fluorescence and a global database of plant traits, all of which demonstrate that croplands have a higher photosynthetic capacity than other vegetation types. The large contribution of CO 2 is also supported by a meta-analysis of 466 manipulative experiments and 15 terrestrial biosphere models. Furthermore, we show that the contribution of GPP max to the change in annual GPP is less in the tropics than in other regions. These multiple lines of evidence reveal an increasing trend in the peak growth of global vegetation. The findings highlight the important roles of agricultural intensification and atmospheric changes in reshaping the seasonality of global vegetation growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1897-1905
Number of pages9
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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