Zhen Yu

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Forest Resource Management

Committee Chair

Jingxin Wang

Committee Co-Chair

Mary Beth Adams

Committee Member

Eungul Lee

Committee Member

Shirong Liu

Committee Member

James Rentch

Committee Member

Richard Thomas

Committee Member

Nicolas Zegre


Terrestrial ecosystems are likely to be affected by climate change, as climate change-induced shift of water and heat stresses patterns will have significant impacts on species composition, habitat distribution, and ecosystem functions, and thereby weaken the terrestrial carbon (C) sink and threaten global food security and biofuel production. This thesis investigates the responses of terrestrial ecosystems to climate change and is structured in four main chapters.;The first chapter of the thesis is directed towards the impacts of snow variation on ecosystem phenology. Variations in seasonal snowfall regulate regional and global climatic systems and vegetation growth by changing energy budgets of the lower atmosphere and land surface. We investigated the effects of snow on the start of growing season (SGS) of temperate vegetation in China. Across the entire temperate region in China, the winter snow depth increased at a rate of 0.15 cm•yr-1 (p=0.07) during the period 1982-1998, and decreased at a rate of 0.36 cm•yr-1 (p=0.09) during the period 1998-2005. Correspondingly, the SGS advanced at a rate of 0.68 d•yr-1 (p<0.01) during 1982 to 1998, and delayed at a rate of 2.13 d•yr-1 (p=0.07) during 1998 to 2005, against a warming trend throughout the entire study period of 1982-2005. Spring air temperature strongly regulated the SGS of both deciduous broad-leaf and coniferous forests; whilst the winter snow had a greater impact on the SGS of grassland and shrubs. Snow depth variation combined with air temperature contributed to the variability in the SGS of grassland and shrubs, as snow acted as an insulator and modulated the underground thermal conditions. Additionally, differences were seen between the impacts of winter snow depth and spring snow depth on the SGS; as snow depths increased, the effect associated went from delaying SGS to advancing SGS. The observed thresholds for these effects were snow depths of 6.8 cm (winter) and 4.0 cm (spring). The results of this study suggest that the response of the vegetation's SGS to seasonal snow change may be attributed to the coupling effects of air temperature and snow depth associated with the soil thermal conditions.;The second chapter further addresses snow impacts on terrestrial ecosystem with focus on regional carbon exchange between atmosphere and biosphere. Winter snow has been suggested to regulate terrestrial carbon (C) cycling by modifying micro-climate, but the impacts of snow cover change on the annual C budget at the large scale are poorly understood. Our aim is to quantify the C balance under changing snow depth. Here, we used site-based eddy covariance flux data to investigate the relationship between snow cover depth and ecosystem respiration (Reco) during winter. We then used the Biome-BGC model to estimate the effect of reductions in winter snow cover on C balance of Northern forests in non-permafrost region. According to site observations, winter net ecosystem C exchange (NEE) ranged from 0.028-1.53 gC•m-2•day-1, accounting for 44 +/- 123% of the annual C budget. Model simulation showed that over the past 30 years, snow driven change in winter C fluxes reduced non-growing season CO2 emissions, enhancing the annual C sink of northern forests. Over the entire study area, simulated winter ecosystem respiration (Reco) significantly decreased by 0.33 gC•m-2•day -1•yr-1 in response to decreasing snow cover depth, which accounts for approximately 25% of the simulated annual C sink trend from 1982 to 2009. Soil temperature was primarily controlled by snow cover rather than by air temperature as snow served as an insulator to prevent chilling impacts. A shallow snow cover has less insulation potential, causing colder soil temperatures and potentially lower respiration rates. Both eddy covariance analysis and model-simulated results showed that both Reco and NEE were significantly and positively correlated with variation in soil temperature controlled by variation in snow depth. Overall, our results highlight that a decrease in winter snow cover restrains global warming through emitting less C to the atmosphere.;The third chapter focused on assessing drought's impact on global terrestrial ecosystems. Drought can affect the structure, composition and function of terrestrial ecosystems, yet the drought impacts and post-drought recovery potential of different land cover types have not been extensively studied at a global scale. Here, we evaluated drought impacts on gross primary productivity (GPP), evapotranspiration (ET), and water use efficiency (WUE) of different global terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the drought-resilience of each ecosystem type during the period of 2000 to 2011. We found the rainfall and soil moisture during drought period were dramatically lower than these in non-drought period, while air temperatures were higher than normal during drought period with amplitudes varied by land cover types. The length of recovery days (LRD) presented an evident gradient of high (> 60 days) in mid- latitude region and low (< 60 days) in low (tropical area) and high (boreal area) latitude regions. As average GPP increased, the LRD showed a significantly decreasing trend among different land covers (R 2=0.53, p<0.0001). Moreover, the most dramatic reduction of the drought-induced GPP was found in the mid-latitude region of north Hemisphere (48% reduction), followed by the low-latitude region of south Hemisphere (13% reduction). In contrast, a slightly enhanced GPP (10%) was showed in the tropical region under drought impact. Additionally, the highest drought-induced reduction of ET was found in the Mediterranean area, followed by Africa. The water use efficiency, however, showed a pattern of decreasing in the north Hemisphere and increasing in the south Hemisphere.;The last chapter compared the differences of performance in trading water for carbon in planted forest and natural forest, with specific focus on China. Planted forests have been widely established in China as an essential approach to improving the ecological environment and mitigating climate change. Large-scale forest planting programs, however, are rarely examined in the context of tradeoffs between carbon sequestration and water yield between planted and natural forests. We reconstructed evapotranspiration (ET) and gross primary production (GPP) data based on remote-sensing and ground observational data, and investigated the differences between natural and planted forests, in order to evaluate the suitability of tree-planting activity in different climate regions where the afforestation and reforestation programs have been extensively implemented during the past three decades in China. While the differences changed with latitude (and region), we found that, on average, planted forests consumed 5.79% (29.13mm) more water but sequestered 1.05% (-12.02 gC m-2 yr -1) less carbon than naturally generated forests, while the amplitudes of discrepancies varied with latitude. It is suggested that the most suitable lands in China for afforestation should be located in the moist south subtropical region (SSTP), followed by the mid-subtropical region (MSTP), to attain a high carbon sequestration potential while maintain a relatively low impact on regional water balance. The high hydrological impact zone, including the north subtropical region (NSTP), warm temperate region (WTEM), and temperate region (TEM) should be cautiously evaluated for future afforestation due to water yield reductions associated with plantations.