Utah juniper was a foundational species for the discipline of dendrochronology, having been used in the early 20th Century investigations of Mesa Verde, but has been largely ignored by dendrochronologists since. Here we present dendrochronological investigations of Utah juniper core and cross-sectional samples from four sites in northern Utah. We demonstrate that, contrary to the general opinion among many dendrochronologists, Utah juniper exhibits excellent crossdating that is reflective of its sensitivity to climate — a desirable characteristic for dendroclimate reconstruction. Across all four sites the dominant signal for annual ring-width increment occurred during the growing season and was positive for precipitation and negative for temperature. This corroborates ecophysiological studies that highlight Utah juniper’s aggressive water-use behavior and desiccation tolerance that together enable survival at extremely negative soil water potentials. This behavior differs from co-occurring Pinus spp. (i.e. P. edulis and P. monophylla) that avoid cavitation at the cost of carbon starvation. We determine that the annual radial increment of Utah juniper rings is particularly responsive to soil moisture availability, and is in fact a useful proxy for hydroclimatic variables such as precipitation, drought, and streamflow. Its geographic distribution spans a large swath of the Interior West, including areas where other more commonly sought-after species for dendrochronology do not occur, and ought to be considered crucial for complementing the rich network of tree-ring chronologies in the western U.S.
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Vol. 72 • No. 1