In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dendroecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Databases and Journals
  • Methods
  • Dendroentomology
  • Tropical Dendroecology
  • Invasive Species Interactions
  • Multisystem Proxies

Ecology Dendroecology
Matthew D. Therrell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 June 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0104


The fact that tree rings are annual in nature and reflect the surrounding environment has undoubtedly been recognized for millennia. In the Western literature, the earliest reported discussion of the idea that tree rings reflect environmental conditions is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Other references to the topic are documented sporadically between then and the early 20th century, when the modern discipline of dendrochronology took form under the direction of A. E. Douglass—an astronomer working in Arizona, Douglass was primarily interested in the potential to use tree rings to study the influence of sunspots on weather, and his early work defined the key principles of the discipline, the most critical of which is “crossdating” within and among tree samples, which is the basis for the absolute annual dating provided by the technique. It was, however, the utility of tree rings as an independent archaeological dating technique that resulted in a dramatic expansion of interest in the discipline, and while the early work focused on dating ancient Native American structures in the US Southwest, other researchers began to carry out dendrochronological investigations in other areas of the United States and Europe. In addition to dendroarchaeology, many researchers began to use tree ring data to reconstruct past climates, which led to the development of the fairly loosely defined subdisciplines of dendroclimotology and, eventually, dendroecology, the former being distinguished by a sole focus on using tree rings for the reconstruction of climate history rather than to study the effects of climate on tree growth. In 1971, Hal Fritts published one of the first important discussions of dendroecology, which emphasized the study of non-climatic variables such as insect herbivory or fire on tree growth as the focus of dendroecology (see Fritts 1971, cited under General Overviews). The 1970s began an era of increased interest in the ecological information available in tree rings, and researchers began to develop a variety of dendroecological records to investigate topics such as endogenous stand dynamics, as well as natural and human-mediated disturbances, such as the effects of fire, insect herbivory, logging, environmental pollution, and other exogenous impacts. More recently, much new dendroecological research has focused on tropical forest environments, in some cases using new techniques such as stable isotope analysis to attempt to develop tree ring records from species with no discernible annual ring structure.

General Overviews

The general works listed in this section cover a range of topics in dendrochronology. Beginners may wish to examine Speer 2010 as it is well illustrated and covers every common application of the discipline. Fritts 2001 is also a very good introductory source yet is frequently referenced by expert practitioners. Beginning dendrochronologists may find Schweingruber 1996 somewhat daunting as it covers an enormous range of material and is very richly illustrated; however, anyone will benefit from examining this book. The recent edited volume Payette and Filion 2011 contains quite a few relevant chapters on recent dendroecological research that will be of interest mostly to practicing dendrochronologists. Key research articles that any serious student of dendroecology should read for historic context include Douglass 1920 and Schulman 1954, while those interested in dendroecology specifically would also benefit from reading Fritts 1971, a paper entitled “Dendroclimatology and Dendroecology,” as well as Fritts and Swetnam 1989.

  • Douglass, A. E. 1920. Evidence of climatic effects in the annual rings of trees. Ecology 1.1 (January): 24–32.

    DOI: 10.2307/1929253

    Appearing in the first volume of Ecology, this paper outlines a talk given by Douglass at the 1920 Ecological Society of America meeting. A very good example of the potential of the relatively new discipline and an excellent early introduction to the field; covers several topics.

  • Fritts, Harold C. 1971. Dendroclimatology and dendroecology. Quaternary Research 1.4: 419–449.

    DOI: 10.1016/0033-5894(71)90057-3

    An important paper in terms of the development of the sub-discipline of dendroecology. Provides a good introduction to the basic methods of dendrochronology as well as examples of how the methods may be applied to various environmental questions.

  • Fritts, Harold C. 2001. Tree rings and climate. Caldwell, NJ: Blackburn.

    Probably the most highly cited publication in the discipline of dendrochronology. A thorough (567 pages) and clear explanation of the basic principles and methods of dendrochronology. A good reference text for beginners or experts in the discipline. Previous edition published by Academic Press, New York (1976).

  • Fritts, Harold C., and Thomas W. Swetnam. 1989. Dendroecology: A tool for evaluating variations in past and present forest environments. Advances in Ecological Research 19:111–188.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2504(08)60158-0

    Good introductory material and background on the application of dendroecology, as well as specific examples of applied studies (e.g., Spruce Budworm studies).

  • Payette, Serge, and Louise Filion, eds. 2011. La dendroécologie: Principes, méthodes, et applications. Quebec City, Canada: Les Presses de l’Université Laval.

    A recent edited volume of twenty-six chapters written by many of the key researchers in the discipline. Part 3, “Applications of Dendroecology” (chapters 13–20) provides a number of examples of applied studies, mostly in the boreal region.

  • Schulman, Edmund. 1954. Longevity under adversity in conifers. Science 119.3091 (March): 396–399.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.119.3091.396

    Seminal paper on ancient tree characteristics and habitats. Introduces the idea that old trees may be found growing in a typical suite of site conditions. A must-read for anyone seriously interested in dendroecology.

  • Schweingruber, Fritz H. 1996. Tree rings and environment: Dendroecology. Bern, Switzerland: Paul Haupt.

    Certainly a key text for professional dendrochronologists. Excellent writing on a range of relevant topics by one of the great minds in the discipline. Many excellent photographs. A key resource for serious practitioners, but also useful and interesting to anyone interested in the subject. (Available at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, CH-8903, Birmensdorf, Switzerland.)

  • Speer, James H. 2010. Fundamentals of tree-ring research. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

    Recent and comprehensive introductory book covering essentially all basic aspects of the discipline. Those new to the discipline will find it very approachable.

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