The influence of monsoon climate on latewood growth of southwestern ponderosa pine

Published by Ecoss on

The North American Monsoon delivers warm season precipitation to much of the southwestern United States, yet the importance of this water source for forested ecosystems in the region is not well understood. While it is widely accepted that trees in southwestern forests use winter precipitation for earlywood production, the extent to which summer (monsoon season) precipitation supports latewood production is unclear. We used tree ring records, local climate data, and stable isotope analyses (δ18O) of water and cellulose to examine the importance of monsoon precipitation for latewood production in mature ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl.) in northern Arizona. Our analyses identified monsoon season vapor pressure deficit (VPD) and Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) as significant effects on latewood growth, together explaining 39% of latewood ring width variation. Stem water and cellulose δ18O analyses suggest that monsoon precipitation was not directly used for latewood growth. Our findings suggest that mature ponderosa pines in this region utilize winter precipitation for growth throughout the entire year. The influence of monsoon precipitation on growth is indirect and mediated by its effect on atmospheric moisture stress (VPD). Together, summer VPD and antecedent soil moisture conditions have a strong influence on latewood growth.