Synergy between small- and large-scale feedbacks of vegetation on the water cycle

M. Scheffer, M. Holmgren, V. Brovkin, M. Claussen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


Predictions of the effects of climate change on the extent of forests, savannas and deserts are usually based on simple response models derived from actual vegetation distributions. In this review, we show two major problems with the implicitly assumed straightforward cause-effect relationship. Firstly, several studies suggest that vegetation itself may have considerable effects on regional climate implying a positive feedback, which can potentially lead to large-scale hysteresis. Secondly, vegetation ecologists have found that effects of plants on microclimate and soils can cause a microscale positive feedback, implying that critical precipitation conditions for colonization of a site may differ from those for disappearance from that site. We argue that it is important to integrate these nonlinearities at disparate scales in models to produce more realistic predictions of potential effects of climate change and deforestation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1012
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • semiarid grazing systems
  • african humid period
  • tropical deforestation
  • arid ecosystems
  • climate system
  • terrestrial ecosystems
  • catastrophic shifts
  • arabian peninsula
  • northern africa
  • range condition


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