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Climatic limits for the present distribution of beech (Fagus L.) species in the world


  • Jingyun Fang,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecology, College of Environmental Sciences, and Centre for Ecological Research & Education, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
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  • Martin J. Lechowicz

    1. Biology Department, McGill University, 1205 Dr Penfield Avenue, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 1B1
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*Jingyun Fang, Department of Ecology, College of Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China.


Aim  Beech (Fagus L., Fagaceae) species are representative trees of temperate deciduous broadleaf forests in the Northern Hemisphere. We focus on the distributional limits of beech species, in particular on identifying climatic factors associated with their present range limits.

Location  Beech species occur in East Asia, Europe and West Asia, and North America. We collated information on both the southern and northern range limits and the lower and upper elevational limits for beech species in each region.

Methods  In total, 292 lower/southern limit and 310 upper/northern limit sites with available climatic data for all 11 extant beech species were collected by reviewing the literature, and 13 climatic variables were estimated for each site from climate normals at nearby stations. We used principal components analysis (PCA) to detect climatic variables most strongly associated with the distribution of beech species and to compare the climatic spaces for the different beech species.

Results  Statistics for thermal and moisture climatic conditions at the lower/southern and upper/northern limits of all world beech species are presented. The first two PCA components accounted for 70% and 68% of the overall variance in lower/southern and upper/northern range limits, respectively. The first PCA axis represented a thermal gradient, and the second a moisture gradient associated with the world-wide distribution pattern of beech species. Among thermal variables, growing season warmth was most important for beech distribution, but winter low temperature (coldness and mean temperature for the coldest month) and climatic continentality were also coupled with beech occurrence. The moisture gradient, indicated by precipitation and moisture indices, showed regional differences. American beech had the widest thermal range, Japanese beeches the most narrow; European beeches occurred in the driest climate, Japanese beeches the most humid. Climatic spaces for Chinese beech species were between those of American and European species.

Main conclusions  The distributional limits of beech species were primarily associated with thermal factors, but moisture regime also played a role. There were some regional differences in the climatic correlates of distribution. The growing season temperature regime was most important in explaining distribution of Chinese beeches, whilst their northward distribution was mainly limited by shortage of precipitation. In Japan, distribution limits of beech species were correlated with summer temperature, but the local dominance of beech was likely to be dependent on snowfall and winter low temperature. High summer temperature was probably a limiting factor for southward extension of American beech, while growing season warmth seemed critical for its northward distribution. Although the present distribution of beech species corresponded well to the contemporary climate in most areas, climatic factors could not account for some distributions, e. g., that of F. mexicana compared to its close relative F. grandifolia. It is likely that historical factors play a secondary role in determining the present distribution of beech species. The lack of F. grandifolia on the island of Newfoundland, Canada, may be due to inadequate growing season warmth. Similarly, the northerly distribution of beech in Britain has not reached its potential limit, perhaps due to insufficient time since deglaciation to expand its range.