Climate has a larger effect than stand basal area on wood density in Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum in the southwestern USA

Stand basal area of ponderosa pine ( Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum Engelm.) in the US Southwest has little effect on the density of the wood produced, but climatic fluctuations have a strong effect. Wood density increases during drought, particularly if the drought occurs in late winter/early spring. Future droughts, as are predicted to increase in the US Southwest, may lead to production of smaller radial increments of higher density wood in ponderosa pine.

Context Forest restoration treatments in the US Southwest are generating large quantities of small-diameter logs. Due to negative perceptions about ponderosa pine wood quality, this material is often seen as a “waste disposal” problem rather than a high-value resource.
Aims Our objective was to understand more about variation in southwestern US ponderosa pine wood density, an important indicator of wood quality. Specifically, we investigated the effect of stand basal area on wood density, and the effect of annual and quarterly climatic variation on wood density.
Methods We collected samples from 54 trees grown at six different basal area levels from a replicated stand density experiment. Pith-to-bark strips were used in an X-ray densitometer to obtain annual density and growth measurements from 1919 to the present.
Results Stand density had a strong effect on growth rate, but little effect on wood density. However, climatic variation did influence wood density, which increased in drought years before quickly returning to pre-drought levels.
Conclusion Stand basal area is not a good indicator of wood density for foresters planning to utilize material from timber harvests in the southwestern USA. Future droughts, as are predicted to increase in the region, will likely reduce wood volume production but may increase wood density in ponderosa pine.

X-ray densitometry, Forest restoration, Wood density, Ponderosa pine, Growing stock level, Dendroecology

Vaughan, D., Auty, D., Kolb, T.E. et al. Annals of Forest Science (2019) 76: 85.

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Data availability
The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the OpenKnowledge@NAU repository (Vaughan and Auty 2019) at Scripts are available from the corresponding author on request

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