This study investigated correlations among climatic variability, population age structure, and seedling survival of a dominant Sonoran Desert tree, Cercidium microphyllum (foothill paloverde), at Tucson, Arizona, USA. A major goal was to determine whether wet years promote seedling establishment and thereby determine population structure. Plant age was estimated from basal circumference for a sample of 980 living and dead trees in twelve 0.5-ha plots. Ages ranged from 1 to 181 years. Age frequency distribution showed that the population is in decline. Most (51.2%) of the 814 living trees were 40-80 years old; only 6.5% were younger than 20 years. The average age of the 166 dead trees was 78 years. Fifty-nine percent of dead trees were aged 60-100 years. Survival of newly emerged seedlings was monitored for 7 years in a 557-m2 permanent plot. Mean survival in the 1st year of life was 1.7%. Only 2 of 1,008 seedlings lived longer than 1 year. Length of survival was not correlated with rainfall. Residual regeneration, an index of the difference between predicted and observed cohort size, showed that regeneration was high during the first half of the twentieth century and poor after the mid-1950s. Trends in regeneration did not reflect interannual variation in seasonal temperature or rain before 1950, that is, in the years before urban warming. Taken together, the seedling study and the regeneration analysis suggest that local population dynamics reflect biotic factors to such an extent that population age structure might not always be a reliable clue to past climatic influences.
Additional publication details
The influence of climatic variability on local population dynamics of Cercidium microphyllum (foothill paloverde)