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Ecol Evol. 2017 Sep 25;7(21):9027-9040. doi: 10.1002/ece3.3421. eCollection 2017 Nov.

Microsite and elevation zone effects on seed pilferage, germination, and seedling survival during early whitebark pine recruitment.

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Department of Integrative Biology University of Colorado Denver Denver CO USA.
Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences University of Colorado Denver Denver CO USA.


Tree recruitment is a spatially structured process that may undergo change over time because of variation in postdispersal processes. We examined seed pilferage, seed germination, and seedling survival in whitebark pine to determine whether 1) microsite type alters the initial spatial pattern of seed caches, 2) higher abiotic stress (i.e. higher elevations) exacerbates spatial distribution changes, and 3) these postdispersal processes are spatially clustered. At two study areas, we created a seed distribution pattern by burying seed caches in microsite types frequently used by whitebark pine's avian seed disperser (Clark's nutcracker) in upper subalpine forest and at treeline, the latter characterized by high abiotic environmental stress. We monitored caches for two years for pilferage, germination, and seedling survival. Odds of pilferage (both study areas), germination (northern study area), and survival (southern study area) were higher at treeline relative to subalpine forest. At the southern study area, we found higher odds of 1) pilferage near rocks and trees relative to no object in subalpine forest, 2) germination near rocks relative to trees within both elevation zones, and 3) seedling survival near rocks and trees relative to no object at treeline. No microsite effects were detected at the northern study area. Findings indicated that the microsite distribution of seed caches changes with seed/seedling stage. Higher odds of seedling survival near rocks and trees were observed at treeline, suggesting abiotic stress may limit safe site availability, thereby shifting the spatial distribution toward protective microsites. Higher odds of pilferage at treeline, however, suggest rodents may limit treeline recruitment. Further, odds of pilferage were higher near rocks and trees relative to no object in subalpine forest but did not differ among microsites at treeline, suggesting pilferage can modulate the spatial structure of regeneration, a finding supported by limited clustering of postdispersal processes.


Pinus albicaulis; microsite; recruitment limitations; regeneration; survival

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