Biology ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 8-1-2023


Extreme temperatures and severe drought events have led to widespread tree mortality worldwide. In semi-arid regions of the Southwest United States, these events pose a significant threat to piñon-juniper (PJ) woodlands. We studied the effects of piñon and juniper mortality on the growth and physiology of existing saplings in PJ woodlands by analyzing water status, photosynthetic activity, and tissue chemistry to gain insights into these impacts. Juniper saplings exhibited improved water status and water use efficiency in response to overstory mortality, whereas piñon saplings did not. Additionally, both piñon and juniper saplings exhibited increased photosynthetic rates, increased photosynthetic capacity, and enhanced growth rates. Our results suggest that saplings of both species responded similarly regardless of whether a mature piñon or juniper died. However, piñon saplings appeared to be more vulnerable to overstory mortality, likely due to the difference in hydraulic strategies between piñon and juniper This study enhances our understanding of the post-mortality recovery process in piñon-juniper ecosystems, providing valuable insights into the contrasting effects of piñon vs. juniper mortality as well as the distinct physiological responses exhibited by piñon and juniper saplings.




Ecophysiology, PJ woodlands, Sapling physiology, Southwest

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Biology Department

First Committee Member (Chair)

Marcy Litvak

Second Committee Member

Susan Schwinning

Third Committee Member

William Pockman

Fourth Committee Member

Esteban Muldavin