The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is the highest biogeographic unit on earth and widely regarded as its ‘third pole’. The high-altitude, frigid and arid alpine ecosystems that form the Plateau are extremely sensitive to climate change and human disturbance. Unsurprisingly, the Plateau is therefore a global epicenter of ecological and global change research and provides the ideal conditions and context to study the impacts of global change. Ecological research conducted on the Plateau can be partitioned into four developmental and chronological phases, beginning with the gathering of primitive knowledge and progressing towards a description of mechanistic processes. Throughout the course of Plateau research paradigm shifts from standalone surveys of biogeographic patterns to fixed monitoring and mechanism research; from isolated population, community and ecosystem approaches to more integrated, multidisciplinary research; and from pure theoretical research to an emphasis on effective resource utilization and sustainable development. Future ecological research will likely pay increasing attention to quantifying the impacts of climate warming and human activity on ecosystem change, and climate and ecosystem feedback processes. Multidisciplinary and comprehensive research should be strengthened amongst fields such as ecosystem ecology, physical geography, environmental science and remote sensing in order to support climate change adaptation and sustainable development in this fragile and unique region.
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Vol. 8 • No. 1