Treelines are temperature sensitive transition zones that are expected to respond to climate warming by advancing beyond their current position. Response to climate warming over the last century, however, has been mixed, with some treelines showing evidence of recruitment at higher altitudes and/or latitudes (advance) whereas others reveal no marked change in the upper limit of tree establishment. To explore this variation, we analysed a global dataset of 166 sites for which treeline dynamics had been recorded since 1900 AD. Advance was recorded at 52% of sites with only 1% reporting treeline recession. Treelines that experienced strong winter warming were more likely to have advanced, and treelines with a diffuse form were more likely to have advanced than those with an abrupt or krummholz form. Diffuse treelines may be more responsive to warming because they are more strongly growth limited, whereas other treeline forms may be subject to additional constraints.