Tree line

The tree line is the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing. It is found at high elevations and in frigid environments. Beyond the tree line, trees cannot tolerate the environmental conditions (usually cold temperatures or lack of moisture).:51 The tree line is sometimes distinguished from a lower timberline or forest line, which is the line where trees form a forest with a closed canopy.:151:18

At the tree line, tree growth is often sparse and stunted, with the last trees forming densely matted bushes, known as krummholz (German for "crooked wood").:58

The tree line, like many other natural lines (lake boundaries, for example), appears well-defined from a distance, but upon sufficiently close inspection, it is a gradual transition in most places. Trees grow shorter towards the inhospitable climate until they simply stop growing.:55

There are several types of tree lines defined in ecology and geology:

An alpine tree line is the highest elevation that sustains trees; higher up it is too cold, or the snow cover lasts for too much of the year to sustain trees.:151 The climate above the tree line of mountains is called an alpine climate,:21 and the terrain can be described as alpine tundra. In the northern hemisphere treelines on north-facing slopes are lower than on south-facing slopes because the increased shade on north-facing slopes means the snowpack takes longer to melt. This shortens the growing season for trees.:109 In the southern hemisphere, the south-facing slopes have the shorter growing season.

The alpine tree line boundary is seldom abrupt: it usually forms a transition zone between closed forest below and treeless alpine tundra above. This zone of transition occurs “near the top of the tallest peaks in the northeastern United States, high up on the giant volcanoes in central Mexico, and on mountains in each of the 11 western states and throughout much of Canada and Alaska”. Environmentally dwarfed shrubs (krummholz) commonly forms the upper limit.

This page was last edited on 23 May 2018, at 18:36.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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