Arid and Alpine ecosystems are known for extreme environmental changes during the Late Quaternary. We hypothesize that the world's largest Alpine arid ecosystem however, the Alpine Steppes of the Tibetan highlands, remained ecologically stable during the LGM and the mid-Holocene. This hypothesis is tested by distributional range of plant species, plant life forms and rate of endemism. The set of character species has a precipitation gradient between 50 and 350 mm/a, testifying for resilience to precipitation changes. 83% of the species have a wider vertical range than 1000 m used as a proxy for resilience to temperature changes. 30% of the species are endemic with 10 endemic genera, including plate-shaped cushions as a unique plant life form. These findings are in line with palaeo-ecological proxies (δ18O, pollen) allowing the assumption that Alpine Steppes persisted during the LGM with 3 to 4 K lower summer temperatures.
During the mid-Holocene, forests could have replaced Alpine Steppes in the upper catchments of the Huang He, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Yarlung Zhangbo, but not in the interior basins of the north-western highlands, because the basins were then flooded, suppressing forests and supporting the environmental stability of this arid Alpine grassland biome.