To improve our understanding of climate-driven long-term dynamics of eastern Asian mountain forests, we used field surveys and dendrochronological techniques to examine regeneration density, growth rate of mature trees, and growth sensitivity to climate of 3 common coniferous tree species at their respective altitudinal distribution limits on Changbai Mountain, northeastern China. The studied species were Manchurian fir (Abies nephrolepis, distributed between 780 and 1750 m asl), Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis, 780 and 1300 m asl), and Jezo spruce (Picea jezoensis var. komarovii, 1000 and 1750 m asl). Regeneration densities did not differ significantly among the elevations except for Jezo spruce, which showed a significantly lower regeneration density at 1000 m asl as compared to 1300 and 1750 m asl. All 3 species showed a significantly higher basal area increment (BAI) at the middle part of their distribution ranges than at their limits. The growth of Manchurian fir and Jezo spruce exhibited higher sensitivity to precipitation than to temperature at their lower distribution limits, and the inverse pattern was observed at the upper limit. In all cases the correlations between growth and the respective climate variable were positive, except for the correlation between Jezo spruce growth and precipitation. Growth of Korean pine was positively correlated with spring temperature and summer moisture at its lower distribution limit and with summer temperature at its upper limit. Our study suggests that elevational limits of forest vegetation were likely constrained by climate factors affecting growth of dominant species rather than those controlling regeneration density.
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