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Quercus aquifolioides Rehder & E.H. Wilson, an evergreen alpine and subalpine shrub species, occupies a wide range of habitats on the eastern slopes of the Himalaya in China. In this study, we measured leaf morphology, nitrogen content and carbon isotope composition (as an indicator of water use efficiency) of Q. aquifolioides along an altitudinal gradient. We found that these leaf morphological and physiological responses to altitudinal gradients were non-linear with increasing altitude. Specific leaf area, stomatal length and index increased with increasing altitude below 2800 m, but decreased with increasing altitude above 2800 m. In contrast, leaf nitrogen content per unit area and carbon isotope composition showed opposite change patterns. Specific leaf area seemed to be the most important parameter that determined the carbon isotope composition along the altitudinal gradient. Our results suggest that near 2800 m in altitude could be the optimum zone for growth and development of Q. aquifolioides, and highlight the importance of the influence of altitude in research on plant physiological ecology.