The alpine treeline demarcates the temperature-limited upper elevational boundary of the tree life form. However, this treeline does not always occur exclusively as a sharp “line”, outposts of tree groups (OTG) with a height of at least 3 m are often observed in microsites up to several hundred meters beyond the line of continuous forest on some mountains. This suggests that other factors such as microenvironment may play a significant role in compensating for the alpine tree facing growth-limiting low temperature conditions. To test the microenvironment effects, this study compared the differences in growing conditions (climate and soil properties) and ecophysiological performance of Erman’s birch (Betula ermanii
Cham.) trees growing in a continuous treeline site (CTL, ~1950 m above sea level, a.s.l.) and OTGs (~2050 m a.s.l.) on Changbai Mountain in northeastern China. The results show the average 2-m air temperature for OTG was slightly lower in the non-growing season than which at the CTL (−10.2 °C < −8.4 °C), there was no difference in growing season air temperature and soil temperature at 10 cm depth between CTL and OTG. The contents of focal soil nutrients in CTL and OTG were similar. Difference in K and Mn contents between sites were detected in leaves, difference in K, Mn, and Zn in shoots. However, comparing similarity of ecophysiological performances at an individual level, trees at CTL and OTG show no significant difference. Our study reveals that mature trees at the CTL and OTG experience generally similar environmental conditions (climate and soil properties) and exhibit similar overall ecophysiological performance (reflected in carbon reserves and nutrients). This might provide insight into how mature trees might be able to survive in areas higher than the continuous treeline, as well as the importance of microclimatic amelioration provided by protective microsites and the trees themselves.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited