Pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) mortality and response to water addition across a three million year substrate age gradient in northern Arizona, USA

Christopher E. Looney, Benjamin W. Sullivan, Thomas E Kolb, Jeffrey M. Kane, Stephen C. Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


Background and aims: Pinyon pine (Pinus edulis Engelm.) is an important tree species in the western United States that has experienced large-scale mortality during recent severe drought. The influence of soil conditions on pinyon pine response to water availability is poorly understood. We investigated patterns of tree mortality and response of tree water relations and growth to experimental water addition at four sites across a three million year soil-substrate age gradient. Methods: We measured recent pinyon mortality at four sites, and tree predawn water potential, leaf carbon isotope signature, and branch, leaf, and stem radial growth on 12 watered and unwatered trees at each site. Watered trees recieved fifty percent more than growing season precipitation for 6 years. Results: Substrate age generally had a greater effect on tree water stress and growth than water additions. Pinyon mortality was higher on intermediate-aged substrates (50-55%) than on young (15%) and old (17%) substrates, and mortality was positively correlated with pinyon abundance prior to drought. Conclusions: These results suggest high soil resource availability and consequent high stand densities at intermediate-age substrates predisposes trees to drought-induced mortality in semi-arid regions. The response of tree water relations to water addition was consistent with the inverse texture hypothesis; watering reduced tree water stress most in young, coarsely textured soil, likely because water rapidly penetrated deep in the soil profile where it was protected from evapotranspiration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-102
Number of pages14
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2012



  • Growth
  • Mortality
  • Pinus edulis
  • Pinyon pine
  • Substrate age gradient
  • Water additions
  • Water relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science

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