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Best Friends Forever – from The Wildlife Professional

Cara J

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It’s late fall in the high mountains of western North America and the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests are alive with activity. Birds and mammals are feasting on the pine’s copious amounts of large seeds. When the cones ripen, the competition for the fatty, nutritious seeds — which contain “more energy than chocolate per unit of weight” according to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology — is a sight to see. Among the important wildlife species that consume the seeds is the iconic grizzly bear (Ursus arctos). Highly dependent on the pine seeds, the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem thrives when the cone crop is good. Local management agencies even conduct extensive annual cone survey transects to measure the crop size and adjust their grizzly bear management plans based on the size of the crop. The whitebark pine comprises 10 to 15 percent of total forest cover in the lower timberline areas of the Northern Rocky Mountains. ©USDA NRCS Montana While the grizzly bear may be the largest species that covets the seeds, over 110 species of animals compete for them in many parts of the tree’s range. That’s why scientists often describe whitebark pine forests as “keystone” or [...]

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