Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2022, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (2): 280-290.doi: 10.1007/s11442-022-1947-z

• Special Issue: Climate Change and Its Regional Response • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Relationship of minimum winter temperature and temperature seasonality to the northern range limit and species richness of trees in North America

Hong QIAN1(), ZHANG Yangjian2, Robert E. RICKLEFS3, Xianli WANG4,5   

  1. 1. Research and Collections Center, Illinois State Museum, 1011 East Ash Street, Springfield, IL 62703, USA
    2. Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    3. Department of Biology, University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63121, USA
    4. Northern Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, 5320-122nd Street, Edmonton, AB T6H 3S5, Canada
    5. Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, 751 General Service Building Edmonton, AB T6G 2H1, Canada
  • Received:2021-07-29 Accepted:2021-11-18 Online:2022-02-25 Published:2022-04-25
  • About author:Hong Qian, E-mail:
  • Supported by:
    National Key Research and Development Program(2019YFA0607302)


Biologists have considered both winter coldness and temperature seasonality as major determinants of the northern limits of plants and animals in the Northern Hemisphere, which in turn drive the well-known latitudinal diversity gradient. However, few studies have tested which of the two climate variables is the primary determinant. In this study, we assess whether winter coldness or temperature seasonality is more strongly associated with the northern latitudinal limits of tree species and with tree species richness in North America. Tree species were recorded in each of 1198 quadrats of 110 km × 110 km in North America. We used correlation and regression analyses to assess the relationship of the latitude of the northern boundary of each species, and of species richness per quadrat, with winter coldness and temperature seasonality. Species richness was analyzed within 38 longitudinal, i.e., north-south, bands (each being >1100 km long and 110 km wide). The latitudes of the northern range limits of tree species were three times better correlated with minimum temperatures at those latitudes than with temperature seasonality. On average, minimum temperature and temperature seasonality together explained 81.5% of the variation in the northern range limits of the tree species examined, and minimum temperature uniquely explained six-fold (33.7% versus 5.8%) more of this variation than did temperature seasonality. Correlations of tree species richness with minimum temperatures were stronger than correlations with temperature seasonality for most of the longitudinal bands analyzed. Compared to temperature seasonality, winter coldness is more strongly associated with species distributions at high latitudes, and is likely a more important driver of the latitudinal diversity gradient.

Key words: cold tolerance, latitudinal diversity gradient, minimum temperature, temperature seasonality, temperature variation, trees, tropical conservatism hypothesis