Conserving Biodiversity in a Changing Climate: Understanding the Clark’s Nutcracker/Whitebark Pine Mutualism
Clark’s Nutcrackers, small gray-brown birds that live in the subalpine, spend the majority of their days gathering and storing seeds. In particular, they focus on the seeds of the Whitebark pine. These industrious birds can store up to 98,000 seeds a year in thousands of locations, serving as a more effective seed disperser than wind, rodents, or most other birds. This function is essential to the long-term of survival of the Whitebark pine, which has been declining due to the effects of blister rust and pine beetles. Both of these scourges are exacerbated by warming temperatures due to climate change. Whitebark pine is considered a keystone species, as many other species, including Grizzly Bears, depend on its high-calorie nuts.
Dr. Taza Schaming has spent years working to understand these critical ecological relationships in Wyoming. She will be expanding her pioneering study in the winter of 2017-2018 to include the forests of Eastern Washington, where she will band and satellite-track ten additional Clark’s Nutcrackers. With this data, she will, for the first time, be able to compare movement and behavior of nutcrackers living in different ecosystems, allowing for better predictions of population stability and resilience locally in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the North Cascades, as well as rangewide.