Managing climate change adaptation in forests: a case study from the U.S. Southwest.

Published online
04 Dec 2013
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Kerhoulas, L. P. & Kolb, T. E. & Hurteau, M. D. & Koch, G. W.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
USA & Arizona


Forest mortality related to climate change is an increasingly common global phenomenon. We provide a case study of the U.S. Southwest to investigate the interactions among forest restoration treatments that alter stand density, tree growth and drought resistance in trees of different size classes. Using cores taken from five positions in large trees (coarse roots, breast height, base of live crown, midcrown branch and treetop) and breast height in small trees, we investigated how radial growth response to thinning and precipitation availability varied in 72 ponderosa pines Pinus ponderosa Dougl. in northern Arizona. Ten years after thinning, growth of small trees did not respond significantly to thinning, whereas growth of large trees increased following moderate and heaving thinning, and this response was similar across within-tree core sample positions. The intensity of thinning treatment did not significantly affect dry-year growth in small trees. In large trees, dry-year growth after thinning was maintained at pre-thinning levels in moderate and heavy thinning treatments but decreased in the light thinning and control treatments. Synthesis and applications. Our findings indicate that more aggressive thinning treatments used for forest restoration stimulate growth throughout large residual trees from coarse roots to branches and also improve drought resistance, providing a greater resilience to future climate-related stress. These responses to treatment are more pronounced in large trees than small trees. Forest thinning is therefore recommended in systems that are likely to experience increased temperature and decreased precipitation as a result of climate change.

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