Using False Rings to Reconstruct Local Drought Severity Patterns on a Semiarid River

TitleUsing False Rings to Reconstruct Local Drought Severity Patterns on a Semiarid River
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsMorino, KA
AdvisorYool, S
Academic DepartmentGeography and Regional Development
UniversityUniversity of Arizona

In this research, I describe the use of false rings to reconstruct local histories of seasonal drought in riparian ecosystems in semiarid regions. In tree-ring analysis, false rings are boundary-like features often formed as a response to drought within the growing season. Drought can be a common feature in hydrologic regimes of dryland rivers but in recent decades drought has been intensifying due to climate change and increasing water use by cities, agriculture and industry. Identifying when and where water availability has decreased along the river course is critical for understanding, and therefore managing, these generally endangered ecosystems. The higher density of trees compared to instrumental data make them ideal candidates for reconstructing site-specific drought patterns. The first part of this dissertation is an observational study conducted on the San Pedro River in southeastern Arizona during 2002. I used dendrometer data and local hydrological data to show that a period of negligible radial growth in cottonwood during the middle of the growing season coincided with a channel drying event. Tree-ring core samples confirmed that false-rings had formed in each of the instrumented trees. The second part of this dissertation is an experimental study designed to evaluate the effect of different levels of water stress on false-ring formation in cottonwood and willow. I showed that experimental decreases in water availability for periods as short as ten days were enough to induce false-ring formation in willow. Longer periods of reduced water availability were generally required to induce false-ring formation in cottonwood. In the final part of this dissertation, I reconstructed false-ring occurrence in Fremont cottonwoods at three sites along the San Pedro River. I infer from false-ring frequencies that the severity of summer drought has been increasing over the last four to six decades but that the drought severity varies along a hydrological gradient. Overall, the findings in this body of research confirm that false rings in riparian tree species can be used as indicators of seasonal drought and underscore the importance of identifying site-specific responses to reduced water availability along the riparian corridor.