Northeast China Plain deciduous forests

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Satellite view of the forest in Jilin Province, China. Source: USGS

The Northeast China Plain deciduous forests occupy broad inland plains of northeast China are ringed by low mountains that support forests of hardwoods and conifers. This region, sometimes called Manchuria, has a latitude (41°to 47°N), roughly equivalent to the latitude of the northeastern USA. It experiences cold winters and warm summers and it is one of three areas in China that still supports extensive natural forests, especially in the hilly areas. Although most of the Northeastern China Plain has been converted to agriculture, low basins still support China’s largest wetland area and provide breeding habitat to many bird species, including the endangered Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis).

Location and general description

The Northeast China Plain consists of a low-lying alluvial basin that originates at the north end of the Bay of Bohai and extends northward, tracing the catchment of the Liao River. At the top of the Liao watershed, the lowlands extend across a low divide to follow the Songhua River toward its confluence with the Heilongjiang (Amur) River which flows through the Russian Far East to enter the Pacific at the Sea of Okhotsk. Natural vegetation of this plain is deciduous broadleaf forest dominated by oak or a mixture of hardwood species. Many areas are fairly dry. Others are prone to seasonal flooding, so forests here probably once included woodland, grassland and flooded grassland (swamp) components, with closed canopy forest restricted to the wetter, but well-drained sites. At approximately 47°N latitude, the deciduous broadleaf forest undergoes a transition to a more boreal mixed conifer-deciduous formation, marking the northern limit of this ecoregion. Today the forest has been extirpated, and the plain is farmed intensively.

caption WWF

In the southern lowlands, near the Bay of Bohai, vegetation is deciduous broadleaf forest comprised of oaks (especially Quercus wutaishanica and Q. mongolica). Nearby low hills support mixed hardwood stands of maple Acer spp., Amur Lime (Tilia amurensis), elm (Ulmus propinqua), and Manchurian Ash (Fraxinus mandshurica). Stands of Chinese red pine (Pinus tabulaeformis) also occur in some places on the plains, although the deciduous forest is more abundant. Today, the plain of the Liao River is intensively farmed, so few traces of the original forest remain. A semi-wild scrub vegetative assembly does occur in some areas where the scrub oak, Quercus acutissima, is the dominant tree species.

Northward, the plains narrow between the Changbai Mountains to the east and grasslands to the west. Here, Mongolian Oak (Quercus mongolica) remains as an important species with Daurian Birch (Betula dahurica) and the shrubs Bush Clover (Lespedeza bicolor) and Asian Hazel (Corylus heterophylla). Deciduous forests continue to dominate the plains along the Songhua River here in the most northeastern corner of China. Drier sites, such as south-facing slopes and disturbed areas (of which there are many) tend to support an association of Q. mongolica and Betula dahurica, while Acer spp. and Betula spp. grow in moister locations. Scrublands and the understory of drier more open forest stands support thorny shrubs such as Daurian Buckthorn (Rhamnus dahuricus), Chinese Hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida), and Amur Rose (Rosa davurica).

Biodiversity features

One area of high biodiversity found within this ecoregion is the mouth of the Liao River where extensive wetlands, reedbeds, sand, and mudflat areas remain. Here the Shuangtai Hekou Nature Reserve (800 square kilometers ) protects breeding habitat for endangered Red-crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis) and Saunders’ Gulls (Larus saundersii). Intertidal mudflats are important to shorebirds on the Siberian-Australasian flyway.

Amphibians found in the upper Songhua River mainstem within the Northeast China Plain deciduous forests include the Siberian Salamander (Salamandrella keyserlingii); the Long-tailed Clawed Salamander (Onychodactylus fischeri); Gensan Salamander (Hynobius leechii); and the Korean Water Toad (Bufo stejnegeri).

Some of the notable mammals found in this ecoregion within the Second Songhua River Basin include Brandt's Vole (Lasiopodomys brandtii); the ungulate Chinese Goral (Naemorhedus caudatus, VU); the fossorial Roborovski's Desert Hamster (Phodopus roborovskii); the mouse-eared bat Far Eastern Myotis (Myotis bombinus, NT)

Reptiles found in the Northeast China Plain deciduous forests include the Amur Grass Lizard (Takydromus amurensis) and the Taiwan Beauty Snake (Orthriophis taeniurus).

Yiwulu Shan is a hilly area near the Northeast China Plain where a nature reserve (114 square kilometres) protects some forest similar to the potential vegetation of the plain. Here, stands consist of a mixture of deciduous broadleaf species and Pinus tabulaeformis. Forests here probably represent the most intact stands in the western part of Laioning Province, and may be closest to a surviving example of the broadleaf forests that once covered the plains.

Ecoregion status

Deciduous forests of the Northeast China Plain have been largely replaced by agriculture. Today, remnant forest patches can be seen in places where they have been protected for religious reasons, or where the land is steep and inaccessible.

The Northeast China Plain has been targeted for afforestation by the Chinese Government. The Northeast Shelterbelt Project is intended to protect farmland by reducing wind deposition of sand from the loess hills to the west, and to help agricultural areas retain water. This is the eastern part of "a great green wall" planned to extend across northern China by 2050. Opportunities exist for planting this forest in a way that will promote restoration of native habitat, although this concept has yet to be adopted by project planners.

Types and severity of threats

Shuangtai Hekou Nature Reserve is surrounded by areas of high population density and threatened by development and coastal reclamation. Hunting, reed-cutting, water pollution, and a nearby oil industry also threaten habitat within the reserve.

Justification of ecoregion delineation

Because of the fertile soils, most of the plain has been converted for agricultural use and few original deciduous broadleaf forests are left. Therefore, the boundaries correspond to the CVMCC Vegetation Map of China agriculture classes for. These vegetation classes are located within the Northeast China Plain biogeographic subunit in the Oriental deciduous forest region according to Mackinnon.

Further reading

  • Chinese Vegetation Map Compilation Committee. 1979. Vegetation map of China. Map (1:10,000,000). Science Press, Beijing, China. ISBN: 7030089561
  • International Crane Foundation. Crane Species. Retrieved (2000).
  • Laidler L., and K. Laidler. 1996. China’s Threatened Wildlife. Blandford, London.
  • MacKinnon, J. 1996. Wild China. The MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ISBN: 0262133296
  • Mackinnon, J., M. Sha, C. Cheung, G. Carey, Z. Xiang, and D. Melville. 1996. A biodiversity review of China. World Wide Fund for Nature, Hong Kong.
  • Zhao, J., editor. Zheng Guangmei, Wang Huadong, Xu Jialin. 1990. The Natural History of China. McGraw Hill Publishing Company, New York. ISBN: 0002190435

Disclaimer: This article contains some information that was originally published by the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content and added new information. The use of information from the World Wildlife Fund should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE, or for any editing of the original content.




Fund, W., & Hogan, C. (2014). Northeast China Plain deciduous forests. Retrieved from


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