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Accuracy of node and bud-scar counts for aging two dominant conifers in western North America

Hankin, Lacey E., Higuera, Philip E., Davis, Kimberley T., Dobrowski, Solomon Z.
Forest ecology and management 2018 v.427 pp. 365-371
Pinus ponderosa, Pseudotsuga menziesii, climate, conifers, demography, dendrochronology, forest ecosystems, growth rings, roots, seedlings, shoots, tree age, trees, Rocky Mountain region, Western United States
Accurately aging trees is critical for understanding tree demography and tree responses to environmental change. Given the proliferation of studies aimed at understanding the effects of climate and disturbance on forest ecosystems, it is important to understand the tradeoffs between field-based age estimates and precise dendrochronological techniques. We assessed the accuracy of age estimates from node counts in the field against precise tree-ring counts at the root-shoot boundary, in 1279 ponderosa pine and 1268 Douglas-fir seedlings sampled from across three study regions in the western U.S. We also assessed the accuracy of age estimates from bud-scar counts in the field against node counts and precise tree-ring counts in a subset of 757 seedlings from the Northern Rockies. Node counts systematically underestimated ring counts by an average of 4.1 years, with bias increasing with tree age. At annual, ±1-, ±2-, and ±5-yr precision, the accuracy of node counts was 5%, 15%, 29%, and 74% across all regions and species, respectively. Similar results were found for bud scars. Given the magnitude of the bias between field-based methods and ring counts, it is critical to select appropriate aging methods, based on the precision required to answer specific ecological questions. To improve the accuracy of field-based age estimates in these species, we provide a tool for correcting for the bias when precise dendrochronological aging is not feasible.