The study is one of the first to examine the impact of climate change on tree species like pinyon pines that, instead of reproducing annually, shed vast quantities of cones every few years during synchronous, episodic occurrences known as "masting" events. Redmond said such masting in the pinyon pine appears to occur every three to seven years, resulting in massive "bumper crops" of cones covering the ground.
In the new Ecosphere study, the researchers compared two 10-year sequences of time. In addition to showing that total pinyon pine cone production during the 2003-2012 decade had declined from the 1969-1978 decade in the study areas, the team found the production of cones during masting events also declined during that period.
Some scientists believe masting events evolved to produce a big surplus of nut-carrying cones -- far too many for wildlife species to consume in a season -- making it more likely the nuts eventually will sprout into pinyon pine seedlings, she said. Others have suggested masting events occur during favorable climate conditions and/or to increase pollination efficiency. "Right now we really don't know what drives them," Redmond said.
"Across a range of forested ecosystems we are observing widespread mortality events due to stressors such as changing climate, drought, insects and fire," said CU's Barger. "This study provides evidence that increasing air temperatures may be influencing the ability of a common and iconic western U.S. tree, pinyon pine, to reproduce. We would predict that declines in pinyon pine cone production may impact the long-term viability of these tree populations."
Wildlife biologists say pinyon-juniper woodlands are popular with scores of bird and mammal species ranging from black-chinned hummingbirds to black bears. A 2007 study by researchers at the Univ
|Contact: Miranda Richmond|
University of Colorado at Boulder