October 13-15, 2016, we made our first VegLab field trip – a three-day trip to Hehuanshan to see the high-mountain non-forest vegetation. At the elevation around 3,200 m a.s.l., there is a mosaic of forest (dominated mostly by Abies kawakamii and Tsuga chinensis) and non-forest vegetation, mostly dominated by a bamboo Yushania niitakayamensis, with scattered Juniperus and Rhododendron shrubs, and a number of high-elevation herb species. Along the way, we discussed whether this is really a climatic timberline and what we see are actually alpine grasslands, or whether the non-forest vegetation is more likely due to some major disturbances (erosion, fire?). Several recent studies in this region (actually exactly at the place we hiked) studied the uplift of the timberline as a result of climate change (e.g. Greenwood et al. 2014 in Global Change Biology). But isn’t the advancing forest just a result of succession after disturbance? The key argument would be to know how frequent and how intensive are fires in this region. Is there a way to find details about them?
We slept for two days at the bottom of the valley, hiking along the stream to see the valley vegetation, and hiking uphill to the Yushania grasslands, still with some beautiful flowers. Although the weather was not really user-friendly (foggy the first night, raining hard the last day), I think the trip was successful; now we have a better idea how the timberline in the Hehuanshan region actually looks like.