Rice is one of the most important grain crops in Northeast China (NEC) and its cultivation is sensitive to climate change. This study aimed to explore the spatio-temporal changes in the NEC rice planting area over the period of 1980-2010 and to analyze their relationship to climate change. To do so, the CLUE-S (conversion of land use and its effects at small region extent) model was first updated and used to simulate dynamic changes in the rice planting area in NEC to understand spatio-temporal change trends during three periods: 1980-1990, 1990-2000 and 2000-2010. The changing results in individual periods were then linked to climatic variables to investigate the climatic drivers of these changes. Results showed that the NEC rice planting area expanded quickly and increased by nearly 4.5 times during 1980-2010. The concentration of newly planted rice areas in NEC constantly moved northward and the changes were strongly dependent on latitude. This confirmed that climate change, increases in temperature in particular, greatly influenced the shift in the rice planting area. The shift in the north limit of the NEC rice planting area generally followed a 1°C isoline migration pattern, but with an obvious time-lag effect. These findings can help policy makers and crop producers take proper adaptation measures even when exposed to the global warming situation in NEC. © 2014 Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.