Stable carbon isotopes of tree rings as a tool to pinpoint the geographic origin of timber

Akira Kagawa, Steven W. Leavitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Illegal logging is a major cause of worldwide deforestation, and demands for scientific methods to identify the geographic origin of timber are increasing. "Dendroprovenancing" is one such method, in which the origin of unknown wood is estimated by calculating correlations of the ring-width series of the unknown wood with reference trees of known geographic origins. We applied the dendroprovenancing method to carbon isotope network data of pinyon pines (Pinus edulis and Pinus monophylla) from the southwestern United States to test the efficacy of using a carbon isotope time series for provenancing wood. First, we calculated correlations (t values) between test trees temporarily assumed to be of unknown origin and reference trees from 13 surrounding sites. Then, we plotted the t values on a map. When provenancing was successful, the tested trees showed the strongest correlation with reference trees from sites close to the actual origins of the test trees, and the correlations decreased with the distance between the original sites of test and reference trees. This conical distribution of t values enabled provenancing of wood with precision of 114-304 km. Although isotope measurement is more expensive and laborious than ring-width measurement, our tests of provenancing pinyon pines in the southwestern United States showed a higher success rate with carbon isotopes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-183
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Wood Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Forest law enforcement governance and trade (FLEGT)
  • Illegal logging
  • Isotope fingerprint
  • Traceability
  • δC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials


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