Dense canopies browning overshadowed by global greening dominant in sparse canopies

Bingwen Qiu, Zhiyan Ye, Chongcheng Chen, Zhenghong Tang, Zuoqi Chen, Hongyu Huang, Zhiyuan Zhao, Weiming Xu, Joe Berry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Greening, an increase in photosynthetically active plant biomass, has been widely reported as period-related and region-specific. We hypothesized that vegetation trends were highly density-dependent with intensified browning in dense canopies and increased greening in sparse canopies. We exploited this insight by estimating vegetation trends in peak growth from dense to sparse canopies graded from 1 to 20 using the non-parametric Mann-Kendall trend test based on the 500 m 8-day composite MODIS Near Infrared Reflectance of terrestrial vegetation (NIRv) time series datasets in the past two decades (2001–2019) at the global scale. We found that global greening increased by 1.42% per grade with strong fit before grade 15 (R2 = 0.95): net browning (11% browning vs 9% greening) exhibited in high-density canopies (NIRv > 0.39) in contrast to 32% greening in low-density canopies (NIRv ≈ 0.15). While the density-dependent greening was evidenced across different biomes and ecosystems, the steepest gradient (changes per grade) in cropland highlighted the increasingly intensified agricultural activities globally. Greening gradients declined in the dryland, but enhanced in the High-latitude ecosystems driven by warming, especially in the shrubland. Density-dependent vegetation trends were accounted for by the disproportionately impacts from climate changes and the unequal contributions of Land Cover Changes (LCC) among dense and sparse canopies. Vegetation trends and greening gradients could be extensively facilitated by Wetting or Decreasing solar Radiation (WDR), especially in sparse grassland and shrubland. Browning was dominant in dense canopies, which was further aggravated by Drying and Increasing solar Radiation (DIR), especially woody vegetation. This study implied the widespread degradation or mortality of highly productive vegetation hidden among global greening dominant in open ecosystems, which might be further exacerbated by the predicted increasing drought under global warming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number154222
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jun 20 2022


  • Climatic changes
  • Density-dependent
  • Global greening
  • Peak growth of vegetation
  • Spatial heterogeneity
  • Time series images

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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