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Warming, permafrost thawing and nitrogen availability are drivers of increasing plant growth and species richness on the Tibetan Plateau
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  • Hanbo Yun,
  • Qing Zhu,
  • Jing Tang,
  • Wenxin Zhang,
  • Deliang Chen,
  • Philippe Ciais,
  • Qingbai Wu,
  • Bo Elberling
Hanbo Yun
University of Copenhagen

Corresponding Author:hanbo.yun@ign.ku.dk

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Qing Zhu
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
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Jing Tang
University of Copenhagen
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Wenxin Zhang
Lund University
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Deliang Chen
University of Gothenburg
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Philippe Ciais
Laboratory for Climate Sciences and the Environment (LSCE)
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Qingbai Wu
State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Bo Elberling
University of Copenhagen
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Permafrost-affected ecosystems are prone to warming and thawing, which can increase the availability of subsurface nitrogen (N) with consequences for otherwise N-limited tundra vegetation. Here, we show that the upper permafrost of the Tibetan Plateau is subject to thawing and that the upper permafrost zone is rich in ammonium. Furthermore, a five-year 15N tracer experiment showed that long-rooted plant species were able to utilize 15N-labeled N at the permafrost table and far below the main root zone. A 20 years survey is used here to document that long-rooted plant species had a competitive advantage at sites subject to warming and that both plant composition and growth were significantly correlated with permafrost thawing and changes in nitrogen availability. Our experiment documents a clear feedback mechanism of climate warming, which releases plant–available N favoring long-rooted plants and explains important changes in plant composition and growth across sites on the Tibetan Plateau.