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

Damon Vaughan, David Auty, Thomas E Kolb, Andrew J Sanchez Meador, Kurt H. Mackes, Joseph Dahlen, W. Keith Moser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Key message: Stand basal area of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosavar.scopulorumEngelm.) 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number85
JournalAnnals of Forest Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019



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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology

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