Dynamics of Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and saltcedar (Tamarix chinensis) populations along the San Pedro River, Arizona

Juliet Stromberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Woodlands of the exotic saltcedar (Tamarix chinensis) have replaced forests of native Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and willow (Salix spp.) along many rivers of the American South-west. In the middle basin of the San Pedro River, saltcedar dominates only at the drier sites where the surface and ground-water conditions no longer support cottonwood-willow forests. At sites with perennial (or near-perennial) stream flow, saltcedar is co-dominant with Fremont cottonwood. However, saltcedar has been declining in importance at these sites, perhaps due to recent occurrence of conditions that favour cottonwood establishment (frequent winter flooding, high rates of stream flow during spring, exclusion of livestock). This shift provides evidence of capacity for self-repair in degraded Sonoran riparian ecosystems. In the upper basin, in contrast, saltcedar has increased in relative abundance at sites that show evidence of ground-water decline, signaling a need for vigilance in river management. Saltcedar is generally sparse in the upper basin, probably due to the combination of cool temperatures and persistence of perennial or near-perennial stream flows in most areas. Throughout the San Pedro River, saltcedar and cottonwood both have been influenced by changing flood patterns. Expansion of Fremont cottonwood populations and initial colonization by saltcedar both correlate with post-1960 increases in fall and winter flood frequency and decreases in summer flood size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-155
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1998


  • Hydrologic regimes
  • Population dynamics
  • Populus fremontii
  • Tamarix chinensis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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