In the Little Missouri Badlands of southwestern North Dakota, the channels of ephemeral streams are incised 2 to 10 m or more into mid-to-late Holocene alluvium. The objectives of this study were to determine the timing and cause(s) of the most recent episodes of fluvial incision and to develop a process-response model that illustrates the formation and evolution of arroyos in this region. The purpose was to distinguish natural from anthropogenic changes to the landscape and to discriminate allogenic from autogenic causes of incision, thereby gaining a greater sense of how steep, relatively small, ephemeral streams evolve. Dendrochronologic and dendrogeomorphic analyses of riparian cottonwoods provide an inexpensive, high-resolution dating method to constrain the time of incision, thereby permitting determination of the cause(s) of incision by evaluating environmental conditions prior to and at the onset of fluvial incision. An examination of seven small (10 to 100 km2) drainage basins indicated ephemeral streams have undergone a four-stage cycle of change within the past 200 years, comprising(i) an initial period of relative geomorphic stability with pedogenesis on the flood plain and low rates of lateral channel migration, (ii) a period of channel incision with subsequent widening of the flood plain through lateral corrasion along middle and upstream reaches, (iii) a concomitant period of aggradation along downstream reaches and, finally, (iv) a period of downstream incision. Dendrochronologic data and dendrogeomorphic relations indicate there have been three distinct periods of fluvial incision in the past 200 years. The first period of incision began in the 1860s and 1870s prior to the onset of European settlement and intensive grazing by domesticated cattle in the area. This period of incision occurred along the middle reaches of all seven of the streams examined and coincided with a severe, protracted drought, suggesting an allogenic cause. The second period of incision occurred during the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century along the upstream reaches of streams. This period of incision was mentioned in some written accounts of early settlers and coincided with the introduction of cattle and historical overgrazing of the region. However, overgrazing may not have caused the incision of this period, but instread exacerbated or accelerated the upstream migration of knickpoints formed earlier along middle reaches. A third period of incision has occurred in the past 20 years along the lower reaches of two of the seven streams examined. This incision was caused by the process of meander cutoff. This autogenic process decreases sinuosity and increases channel slope, stream power, and the potential to incise along adjacent stream reaches. ?? 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.