Acoustic Monitoring of Clark’s Nutcrackers in Whitebark Pine Habitat of the North Cascades


Lauren Taracka

Faculty Mentor(s)

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


4 thoughts on “Acoustic Monitoring of Clark’s Nutcrackers in Whitebark Pine Habitat of the North Cascades”

  1. Gabrielle Stryker

    Really interesting talk Lauren! I love that you can scan the recordings. It will be nice to see how this project proceeds. Are you surprised by weather and date being the only factors associated with the nutcrackers presence, or did you expect this finding from other studies?

  2. Hi Lauren!
    Thank you so much for sharing this presentation and illuminating information through SOURCE!
    I was drawn to your presentation’s title as a bird-lover, hiker, and a person who is interested in wildlife and wilderness conservation and preservation, and climate change. I’m grateful for the introduction you’ve provided to the symbiotic, and fragile, relationship between the Whitebark Pine and Clark’s Nutcracker. While it’s interesting to liken and contemplate the complexity of their relationship in terms of the riddle around the chicken and the egg, the vulnerability of their co-dependent existence caused me to realize there may be many relationships like this that I don’t even know about that have already been lost or may soon be due to climate change, destruction of habitat and other disruptions by humans.
    Design- and narrative-wise, this is one of the most well-done presentations I’ve come across at SOURCE. I love all of the great photos you’ve included that show what Whitebark Pines and Clark’s Nutcrackers look like and the habitat they occupy. The explanations you give around the work seem accessible to viewers and learners who do not possess prior or deeper knowledge about the tree or the bird, or the science involved in the subject matter. Consistent design is also evident throughout your slides in consideration to contrast between text color and background colors. I also appreciate the strategy of displaying a smaller version of the acoustical monitoring study map with contextualizing information on one slide, with the slide following displaying a larger version of the same map and the use of a red-dot pointer so viewers may follow along with the narration regarding different locations on the map.
    Great job on this! And I’d love to learn more, please, about how citizens may help with your important studies!
    Best wishes,

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