Tree Size and Drought Affect Ponderosa Pine Physiological Response to Thinning and Burning Treatments

Kjerstin R. Skov, Thomas E. Kolb, Kimberly F. Wallin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Thinning and burning treatments based on presettlement (prior to Euro-American settlement) stand conditions have been proposed for improving the vigor and growth of Pinus ponderosa. No study has examined effects of different levels of such thinning treatments on tree water, carbon, and nitrogen relations, or compared effects between postsettlement (trees established after Euro-American settlement) and presettlement (established before Euro-American settlement) trees. We investigated responses of presettlement and postsettlement trees to three levels of thinning and burning (unthinned/ unburned control, light thinning/burning, heavy thinning/burning) over 2 yr that differed in precipitation in northern Arizona. Both thinning treatments consistently increased predawn water potential of both tree sizes compared with the control. Effects of thinning on leaf gas exchange varied between tree sizes and measurement times. Thinning increased net photosynthetic rate and stomatal conductance only when soil water availability was lowest, and increases were greater for postsettlement than presettlement trees. In contrast, thinning had no effect on foliar nitrogen concentration. Our results suggest greater positive effects of restoration thinning on tree water and carbon relations for postsettlement versus presettlement trees, and under drought versus nondrought conditions. Photosynthetic response to thinning in old trees may be constrained by physiological factors associated with large size such as low soil-to-leaf hydraulic conductance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-91
Number of pages11
JournalForest Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Arizona
  • Carbon isotope
  • Nitrogen
  • Photosynthesis
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • Stomatal conductance
  • Water relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology
  • Ecological Modeling


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