Date of Award:

4-30-2012

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Biology

Advisor/Chair:

Kimberly A. Sullivan

Abstract

Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) is the primary seed disperser of whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), which is in decline throughout its range. There is concern that a decline in whitebark pine will lead to a subsequent decline in local populations of Clark's Nutcracker. Because natural regeneration depends on the presence of Clark's Nutcracker, the process of harvesting whitebark pine seeds needs to be fully understood. In addition, resource managers need a cost-effective method for monitoring nutcracker occurrence in whitebark pine stands during the seed harvest season. I visited eleven study sites in Glacier National Park, Montana, where I searched for Clark's Nutcracker and surveyed whitebark pine cones for seed harvesting scars, the presence of which indicated that nutcrackers harvested seeds. I documented cone use patterns of Clark's Nutcracker and the major cone predator, red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), at five sites. To identify factors that influence cone use, I ran a correlation analysis with nutcracker and red squirrel seed harvesting variables with physical, compositional, and whitebark pine-related factors. I found that nutcrackers harvested seed at every site that had cones available. Nutcrackers harvested seed from a greater proportion of whitebark pine cones in stands where they started intensively harvesting seeds earlier. Nutcrackers began intensively harvesting seeds earlier in stands with higher relative dominance of whitebark pine. Red squirrels depleted the cone source more rapidly in stands with greater whitebark pine mortality, and at one site depleted the cone source completely before nutcrackers began intensively harvesting seeds from that site. The results of this study suggest that Clark's Nutcracker will continue to harvest seeds even as whitebark pine declines, but the decline in whitebark pine may lead to decreased seed dispersal due to greater pre-dispersal cone predation by red squirrels. Finally, I evaluated direct and indirect monitoring methods to identify a cost-effective method to accurately monitor Clark's Nutcracker occurrence in whitebark pine stands during the seed harvest season. I found that surveying scars made by seed-harvesting nutcrackers on whitebark pine cones was the most accurate and economical method of monitoring Clark's Nutcracker occurrence in an area with a low population of Clark's Nutcracker.

Comments

This work made publicly available electronically on July 30, 2012.

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