Warm, dry conditions inhibit aspen growth, but tree growth and size predict mortality risk in the southwestern United States

Publication: Canadian Journal of Forest Research
28 May 2020


Widespread, rapid aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) mortality since the beginning of the 21st century, sometimes called sudden aspen decline (SAD), has been documented in many locations across North America, but it has been particularly pronounced in the southwestern United States. We investigated the relationship among aspen growth, mortality, and climate across three forest types in northern Arizona using cross-dated tree-ring samples from 126 live and 132 dead aspens. Aspen growth was negatively correlated with warm temperatures and positively associated with higher precipitation. Using survival analysis techniques to investigate the links between aspen mortality, tree traits, and climatic conditions, we found that tree traits played a larger role in mortality risk than climate factors. Trees with larger diameters, older trees, and trees with faster growth rates over the past 50 years had a reduced risk of mortality. Management actions aimed at maintaining the most vigorous, fastest growing aspen in the region could help mitigate the impacts of a warmer, drier future.


La mortalité rapide et généralisée du peuplier faux-tremble (Populus tremuloides Michx.) depuis le début du 21e siècle, parfois appelée le déclin soudain du peuplier faux-tremble, a été documentée à plusieurs endroits à travers l’Amérique du Nord, mais le déclin a été particulièrement sévère dans le sud-ouest des États-Unis. Nous avons étudié la relation entre la croissance du peuplier faux-tremble, la mortalité et le climat dans trois types de forêts du nord de l’Arizona à l’aide d’échantillons d’anneaux de croissance synchronisés provenant de peupliers faux-trembles, 126 morts et 132 vivants. La croissance du peuplier faux-tremble était négativement corrélée avec les températures chaudes et positivement associée à des précipitations élevées. À l’aide de techniques d’analyse de survie pour étudier les liens entre la mortalité du peuplier faux-tremble, les caractéristiques des arbres et les conditions climatiques, nous avons trouvé que les caractéristiques des arbres jouent un plus grand rôle dans le risque de mortalité que les facteurs climatiques. Les arbres avec un plus gros diamètre, les arbres plus vieux et les arbres avec un taux de croissance plus élevé au cours des 50 dernières années avaient un faible risque de mortalité. Des pratiques d’aménagement visant à conserver les peupliers faux-trembles les plus vigoureux, ceux qui croissent le plus rapidement dans la région pourraient contribuer à atténuer les impacts d’un climat futur plus chaud et plus sec. [Traduit par la Rédaction]

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cover image Canadian Journal of Forest Research
Canadian Journal of Forest Research
Volume 50Number 11November 2020
Pages: 1206 - 1214


Received: 19 June 2019
Accepted: 20 May 2020
Published online: 28 May 2020


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Key Words

  1. Arizona
  2. climate
  3. aspen
  4. Populus tremuloides
  5. mortality


  1. Arizona
  2. climat
  3. peuplier faux-tremble
  4. Populus tremuloides
  5. mortalité



Kathryn B. Ireland* Kathryn.Ireland@mt.gov
School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, P.O. Box 15018, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA.
Margaret M. Moore
School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, P.O. Box 15018, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA.
Peter Z. Fulé
School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, P.O. Box 15018, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA.
Larissa L. Yocom
Department of Wildland Resources and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, 5230 Old Main, Logan, UT 84322, USA.
Thomas J. Zegler
New Mexico State Forestry, 2610 N. Silver St., Silver City, NM 88061, USA.


Present address: Geographer, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program, 1539 Eleventh Ave., Helena, MT 59601, USA.
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