Biogeomorphological niche of a landform: Machine learning approaches reveal controls on the geographical distribution of Nitraria tangutorum nebkhas

Haochen Zhang, Shihan Li, Joseph A. Mason, Hezi Yizhaq, Dongwei Gui, Zhiwei Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nebkhas are distinctive biogeomorphological landforms prevalent in global drylands and coastal environments. They play a crucial role in supporting local biodiversity and preventing land desertification and often serve as an indicator of local environmental change. Despite their significance, the environmental factors that affect their geographical distribution and how they respond to climate change have not been fully explored. This study represents a novel application of machine learning models to quantifying the biogeomorphological niche of Nitraria nebkhas in northern China and simulating their geographical distribution under future climate change conditions. Findings underscore that climatic variables influence the growth of formative shrub species on nebkhas, whereas climate, soil and geomorphological conditions, along with their spatial configuration, determine the probability of nebkha occurrence. Predictions under medium and high greenhouse gas emission scenarios indicate a northward shift in the potential distribution of nebkhas in northern China by the end of the century, accompanied by a decrease in the south due to rising temperatures. Given the potential impact of nebkha field degradation on biodiversity and soil hydrological conditions, adaptive land use strategies should be designed to protect nebkhas and mitigate the impact of climate change. Our study not only provides valuable insights for informing policy-making and conservation initiatives but also serves as an example for quantifying the niche of biogeomorphological landforms and simulating their dynamics by integrating machine learning approaches into empirical geomorphological studies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2024


  • biogeomorphological niche
  • climate change
  • machine learning
  • nebkha
  • potential distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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