Alison Scoville (Biological Sciences)
Clark’s Nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) and Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis; WBP), both native to the subalpine habitats of the Cascade Mountains, are part of a fascinating mutualism: WBP, a keystone species which is currently declining, provides high energy seeds and shelter for smaller trees and plants, while the nutcracker is its only seed disperser. The goal of this project was to survey nutcrackers in WBP habitat through acoustic recording units to assess how habitat variables impacted nutcracker occurrence and detectability throughout summer and fall. We deployed monitors at 12 randomly chosen study sites and collected 908 days of acoustic recordings. In addition, we conducted visual occupancy surveys (to compare with the recording units), habitat surveys (to assess nutcracker occupancy as a function of important habitat variables), and WBP cone counts. Nutcrackers were observed at locations 39% of the days, and we are currently developing occupancy models to assess which habitat variables most strongly influences nutcracker occurrence. The methods we developed during this pilot season will be expanded in 2021 and are the base of a proposed long-term citizen science monitoring project. The results from this season of monitoring will be used to understand the current local nutcracker population and habitat use. The methods used will provide a new approach to nutcracker monitoring. The results will be useful to biologists, and wildlife and forest management in further understanding the unique relationship between the species in the Pacific Northwest, implementing WBP conservation protocols, and determining which populations need the most support.
Keywords: Whitebark Pine, Clark’s Nutcracker, Conservation, Sustainability